The rugby community was rocked this morning with the announcement from the sport’s governing body, the Rugby Football Union, that the funding for the Greene King IPA Championship is to be cut 50% from next season, throwing the competition’s future into jeopardy.
While Bedford Blues boast one of the division’s best followings, the futures of a number of clubs have been thrown into chaos following the ruling publicised this morning.
The Chief Executive of the RFU, Bill Sweeney, cited a failure on the league’s part to meet “a set of objectives and deliverables” agreed before the funding increase prior to the 2016 season.
Sweeney continued, “Ultimately the difference in the levels of funding between the current agreement and our new commitment will not be the deciding factor for clubs with aspirations for promotion and will always require additional investment.”
“The gateway is still open for clubs to get into the Premiership if they have the necessary financial resources and meet the minimum standards required.”
However, this was met with derision from Championship clubs and rugby fans alike, who claim that this decision is a further attempt to appease rugby’s top flight, the Gallagher Premiership, and will lead to a ring-fencing of clubs, ultimately ending with no promotion or relegation to the country’s top rugby league.
Blues Chairman, Geoff Irvine, was quick to comment this morning and did not hold back on his thoughts on what could lead to catastrophic consequences for the division.
“Obviously we are very disappointed with the decision of the RFU, in particular the timing of the announcement, but the Board at Bedford Blues are determined that they will deal with the outcome and plan forward.
“I believe this is giving Premiership Rugby all that they want with regard to ring-fencing, in all but name and with none of the financial commitment or support.
“The significant reduction has come as a shock to the clubs; we will all need some time to consider our position.
“The value of the Championship has not been recognised or rewarded by the RFU, in particular when you consider how many of the England playing squad started their playing careers in the Championship.
“At Bedford Blues we will need to revisit the model of how the club is operated and find the right answer, but we are certainly committed to providing a first-class product on and off the pitch at Goldington Road.”
The timing of the announcement has led to widespread condemnation from all in the Greene King IPA Championship, with many players on lucrative contracts that could leave their clubs struggling to pay their wages.
The current funding of approximately £550,000 per club will be reduced to £288,000, with the potential of as many as 200 players without a side to play for as club’s frantically look to survive.
The knock on effect could be felt very quickly, with one club owner claiming the league could become an amateur division within three seasons, as the financial restraints really take hold.
With many top players cutting their teeth in the Championship, including England captain Owen Farrell at the Blues, the division’s future remains in doubt and while the uproar has been ferocious, whether the sport’s top administrators take much notice is another matter.