“The ‘Zombie League’: Lower division teams oppose RFU’s proposed changes for tier-two rugby.”
The sport of English rugby is on the verge of experiencing another major political dispute as the Championship clubs of the second-tier have requested for both Rugby Football Union council members and the government to postpone their approval of the new eight-year Professional Game Partnership (PGP) agreement.
The clubs are urging the RFU to enter into new discussions, arguing that the proposed “franchise” Premiership Two league does not benefit the larger sport.
The Championship clubs are opposed to a “closed shop” 10-team Premiership involving no promotion or relegation which they believe could create a “zombie league” of neutered feeder clubs. They also object to familiar “brands” such as Wasps or London Irish being parachuted into a reshaped second tier, arguing that clubs which have gone out of business should be required to repay their debts in full before being eligible for inclusion.
The significant decrease in financial support from the RFU in recent times has caused much disagreement. Nottingham’s chairman, Alistair Bow, claims that the union’s representatives have approached discussions with Championship teams as a mere formality, allowing them to claim they have included the clubs in plans for a better future.
According to Bow, important Twickenham executives have not been actively participating in discussions. He claims that during meetings, they often cannot recall what was discussed in previous meetings and manipulate information to fit their own interests. This is particularly frustrating, especially when the chief executive is constantly on his phone instead of focusing on the meeting. It is challenging to engage with individuals who are not willing to participate.
I believe we are being viewed as the troublesome one. However, I do believe we have solidarity, and if we can persuade the council and government to not give approval for the tier-two proposal and PGP until all the specifics have been deliberated, then I believe we have a real opportunity. The Premiership requires a pathway for their players. Currently, we feel that the RFU executive is putting in too much effort to only benefit 10 Premiership clubs.
The chairman of the Championship committee, Simon Halliday, has stated that his members do not intend to split away. However, he did express disapproval of the suggestion to propose the PGP deal to the RFU Council. This potential vote is set to take place next month, but Halliday believes it is too early for such a decision. He emphasized that other ideas have been presented to the RFU, and officials from the Championship have also raised concerns about their clubs’ Covid-related loans from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. These loans, which add up to approximately £5m, could pose a problem and need to be considered.
The Championship made a statement saying that they have talked to Sport England about the issue of funding and governance. They feel that it is important to have more information in order for Championship clubs to be able to pay back their Covid loans. The Championship also believes that Sport England shares their concerns.
Simon Cohen, the ex-CEO of Leicester, strongly advocates for a powerful and fair Championship league for the national team. This is especially crucial with upcoming Premiership teams being limited to 37 experienced players and 12 academy transition players. Cohen stated, “If they truly want a top-performing England team, they cannot overlook the contributions of Championship clubs.”
“England is experiencing a shortage of emerging players and depth in specific positions. It is crucial for them to receive adequate playing time in a suitable environment.”
Meanwhile, Bow expressed his disapproval of the notion to expedite the return of clubs like Wasps to a “Premiership Two” league. From his viewpoint, this is completely unacceptable. “Unless all debts, both in rugby and to the government, have been repaid, a club should not even be considered for readmission into the league,” he stated.
“If one person is given permission to do something, others will likely imitate. Similarly, if you are granted admission under the RFU regulations, it is expected that you would start at the bottom of the pyramid, as many other clubs have done in the past.”
The RFU has officially announced that Doncaster has requested to be considered for potential promotion to the Premiership if they finish first in the Championship this year. This would require them to win a playoff against the lowest-ranked Premiership team, according to the current agreement. However, Halliday stated that any financial aid typically given to a relegated team would not be allowed in this scenario.
“If Doncaster were to gain entry into the Premiership, we would not agree to a parachute payment under any circumstances.”