Proposals for a revamped English top flight have not even left the drawing board yet, according to Premiership Rugby chairman Ian Ritchie.
Reports have surfaced of a rift between Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union amid suggestions the English clubs could form a breakaway competition if its demands for an end to promotion and relegation are not met, but Ritchie described that as a “ridiculous” and “precipitous” representation of where things really stood.
Minutes of a Premiership Rugby board meeting have been reported on Sunday, where an “unregulated competition” is mooted “if the RFU were to be unwilling to support change”.
There would be serious consequences for any breakaway league such as this – for instance it would not be covered by existing anti-doping controls and any players involved in such a competition would be ineligible for England duty.
But Ritchie played down any suggestion of disagreement with the RFU over the matter and said discussions of how the Premiership may look in future were at the early stages, and that nothing had even been put to the RFU for consideration yet. Press Association Sport understands the RFU is not surprised that such ring-fencing of top-flight clubs was being discussed by Premiership Rugby, as it has been a subject which has been talked about at various times since 1995.
“Like any board, you would expect all boards to discuss issues like Premiership promotion and relegation, and we’ve been doing that for some time,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sportsweek programme.
“To be clear, we’ve got an eight-year agreement with the RFU – we work very closely in partnership with them – and we’ve not put any proposals to them about this yet. And nor have we finalised our own, so I think what we need to do is consider this further.
“And I think it’s a bit precipitous to say that there’s a rift between us because we’ve not had the discussions yet.”
Premiership clubs are due to receive around £200million soon from a deal with private equity firm CVC and are therefore looking at ways to ring-fence their financial security. One method would be removing the threat of relegation to the Championship.
Ritchie added: “We all have views over the years of promotion and relegation and what happens with teams going up or down.
“But the uncertainty of that and how it works is another matter to consider, how it works on the economics of the game and the business.”
Premiership Rugby’s existing agreement with the RFU, understood to be worth £30million to the clubs annually, covers compensation for player release for international duty, use of academies and payments for English-qualified players among other areas.
The RFU declined to comment on the reports about a breakaway league but did say: “The RFU has not received a proposal from the clubs on ring-fencing and neither have we made a proposal or offer to the clubs.”