ABU DHABI // A leading official from one of the clubs agitating for reform in European rugby union reckons it is “almost inconceivable” that the sport’s rulers will veto plans for the new Champions Cup.
The name for the proposed competition was announced on Sunday by the combined English and French leagues, who want it to replace the existing Heineken Cup.
Clubs from the two countries have signalled their intention to withdraw from the current competition, as they seek a “more equitable” distribution of funds and a revamped “merit-based” qualification process.
Their move is opposed by the unions of the other sides who participate in competitions organised by European Rugby Cup Limited (ERC), namely Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy.
After negotiations between the opposing factions reached an impasse, the rebelling nations were told their competition was unlikely to be sanctioned by the International Rugby Board (IRB).
However, Ed Griffiths, the chief executive of Saracens in London, insists the threat is baseless.
“I don’t think there is any doubt” the new competition will go ahead, he said. “There is some talk of the unions and even the IRB saying, if a tournament like that didn’t have their permission, it couldn’t go ahead,” Griffiths said, speaking at Abu Dhabi Golf Club yesterday.
“But if the IRB or unions tried to stop the Champions Cup then two things would happen.
“Firstly, it is almost inconceivable that a governing body of a sport would prevent a competition taking place which brings £60-70 million (Dh354-412m) into the game.Secondly, if they did try to stop that, there would be no European rugby.
“The English and French clubs have been very clear they are not going to go back to an ERC tournament, so there would be no European rugby at all. That would obviously not suit anybody.”
Griffiths flew to Abu Dhabi on Sunday night after watching Saracens beat Bath in the English Premiership, and met with officials from the London club’s satellite side in the capital yesterday.
He believes the new Champions Cup could even involve leading South African provinces, whom he says are interested in switching from Super Rugby to participate from the 2015/16 season.
“I think there is interest from South African provinces to play in a north-south competition rather than Super 15, and there could possibly be room for them to join the tournament as well,” he said.
Griffiths believes it is just a matter of time before the reforms being proposed happen.
“If you look at the history of professional rugby, it has always been about this balance between union control and the clubs,” Griffiths said. “That has been a fraught balance at times. The BT Sport television deal has given the [English] clubs a bit more of a chance to redress that imbalance.
“The union should run the national team and some of the grassroots and the clubs should run the club game. That is what happens in most mature professional sports.
“I think it is just a matter of time before that happens in rugby.”