Club News Robson: clubs should run club competitions
Northampton Saints chief executive Allan Robson says that club competitions should be run by the clubs themselves.
Writing in his programme notes for Friday night’s Aviva Premiership match against Sale Sharks, Robson lays out the rationale behind the English and French clubs’ mutual decision to serve their two-year notice to ERC in 2012 and this month’s announcement about the new Rugby Champions Cup.
And today he explained why he was writing about this situation.
“It is important for supporters to hear the facts about one of the most important decisions and debates that we have had for many years regarding the future of European club rugby,” he said. “Vested interest, selective hearing, slanted interpretation and misinformed comment must not be allowed to deflect the facts.
“The Heineken Cup has demonstrated clearly that there is a need and a desire for a Europe-wide club rugby competition. The matches against the likes of Leinster, Toulouse, Toulon and Munster are highlights for any club’s calendar.
“But the simple fact is that while club rugby has grown dramatically in England and France over the past 20 years the Heineken Cup, and more importantly, the underlying management of the competition, its finances and structure, have not adapted to the changes seen elsewhere.
“When the Heineken Cup began professional club rugby was in its infancy, and it was suitable that ERC was set up with the input of the Home Unions, the FFR and Italian Federation.
“The Celtic League had not been invented, and aside from the Irish provinces the European competitions still featured clubs from all six participating nations. Now, as well as the Aviva Premiership and Top 14, we have the Pro 12, which is dominated by regional teams.
“To put these changes into context, when the Saints won the Heineken Cup in 2000 we played Neath, one of Wales’s most historic clubs. This year we are playing the Ospreys, who have superseded not just Neath, but Swansea and Bridgend, both clubs who also played in the Heineken Cup.
“The advent of the Pro 12 has given the Welsh regions, and those in Scotland and Italy, a league which could be as exciting as the Aviva Premiership or Top 14, where qualification for the senior European competition provides a massive incentive to perform each and every week.
“However the qualification process has not changed to reflect this, and the other four unions have manipulated a situation where they can pretty much guarantee that their best players will play in the Heineken Cup each season. Furthermore, the way that decisions are made at ERC board level means that we will always be out-voted when it comes to discussing qualification.
“The same applies with funding, too. Financial distributions are made to each country, not to the league. Again, this may have been suitable 20 years ago when each country had its own league and clubs qualified. But it is not suitable now, and we are in the situation where the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 clubs receive 24 percent of the distribution, while the Pro 12 receives 52 percent.
“Once again, while we want things changed to a straightforward and totally fair three-way split, the other four countries want to preserve the status quo and can out-vote us at ERC board level.
“Over the past 20 years we, and in this I mean clubs on both sides of the Channel, have built up considerable experience about how to run a successful club competition. The Aviva Premiership and Top 14 are both vibrant tournaments which attract strong crowds week in, week out, and have outstanding sponsorship and broadcast deals.
“We have shown that we know how to organise successful competitions in our own countries. We also believe that we can do the same on a European level, and create and manage a club competition which benefits all its participants – in other words, the clubs themselves.
“That said, we want to work with our unions, too, and we hope that the RFU will give its blessing to our solution for our current problems. A successful England team is dependent on having a competitive and strong club base, which develops and cares for top class players throughout the season. Meanwhile we, the clubs, need to be financially viable to maintain the investment required for this process.
“When we served our notice in June 2012 no one wanted this brinksmanship. But ERC have prevaricated and pontificated and tried to kick our proposals into the long grass. Nowhere is this more obvious than in their most recent meeting invitation, which was for October 23rd – six weeks after the date the invitation was made!
“At the moment we still don’t have a competition for next season. We are therefore in the position where we are having to make things happen ourselves in order to ensure that we have the type of cross-border competition that our supporters, players and sponsors demand.”