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Could the current row over the future of the Heineken Cup threaten the 2015 Rugby World Cup?
The next Rugby World Cup is precisely two years away, and according to the chief executives at the heart of it, the important “building blocks” are already in place. Unfortunately for them foundations have already been laid for a boardroom row that could turn the next 24 months into a diplomatic morass.
Ian Ritchie, the Rugby Football Union CEO, and his counterpart at the England 2015 delivery body, Debbie Evans, have joined forces to talk up the positive aspects of their World Cup planning to date, but both were aware of the landslide that will engulf them if the two sides in the European dispute remain at loggerheads.
Ritchie did not throw much light on how far the RFU might go in backing its senior clubs when push comes to shove. But the truth of the matter is that Ritchie finds himself between a rock and a hard place.
As always, it is a case of “follow the money”. The Premiership clubs, blessed with unprecedented wealth from their game-changing deal with BT Sport, are in a far stronger position than other national governing bodies across Europe. What alarms the latter the most is the prospect of prolonged dispute undermining preparations for a World Cup that is expected to generate sufficient money to support the international game for years to come.
If the French and English clubs go it alone, the repercussions could be incredibly damaging for the game. If the clubs don’t have the total backing of their Unions, there could be massive financial consequences should a possible breach of contract occur and that could have a long term effect on club finances.
As a shareholder in ERC, the RFU and FFR have commitments to sponsors (Heineken and Sky) and to the other Unions. Those commitments could be enforced by the IRB who could threaten the withdrawal of international matches for both England and France if they fail to control their clubs.
With the World Cup on the horizon, that could have a serious impact on preparations for both nations and on the money available to the RFU.
Former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio believes lack of a strong European competition could adversely affect England’s chances on the pitch in 2015. He believes “the Heineken Cup is a wonderful competition that gives every country in Europe an edge that would be foolish to under-estimate.””We’ve had a hard job wrestling the World Cup from the southern hemisphere, so we need to have the best competitions in this part of the world for the players to play in” he added.