/ Rugby

English rugby officials to discuss future of Heineken Cup

Updated: Wednesday, 26 Sep 2012 11:00 | Comments

Talks on the future of the European club rugby competition will take place today
Talks on the future of the European club rugby competition will take place today

The power struggle which is threatening the future of the Heineken Cup will be top of the agenda when English Rugby Football Union officials meet with Aviva Premiership club representatives today.

The Premiership and French clubs have served notice on the current European participation agreement, seeking an overhaul of the tournament structure and qualification system from 2014.

The Celtic nations and Italy are refusing to accept English proposals to reduce the Heineken Cup from 24 teams to 20 and force all RaboDirect PRO12 teams to qualify on merit.

That would remove the right to automatic Heineken Cup places currently enjoyed by the likes of Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Italian side Zebre, who did not even exist until the summer.

The situation is complicated further by Premiership Rugby's £152million broadcasting contract with BT Vision, which covers both domestic and European television rights.

Tournament organisers European Rugby Cup Ltd, who have signed their own conflicting television deal with Sky, claimed Premiership Rugby's arrangement with BT is "illegal".

But Premiership Rugby contend that ERC do not have the authority to strike a broadcasting deal which covers English television rights beyond 2014.

Even if the tournament structure debate can be solved by rugby's politicians, it could well need a court to decide whether BT or Sky own the broadcasting rights to a new competition.

At present, there is not even a tournament beyond the 2013-14 season.

The European stakeholders met for the first time in Dublin last week and will hope some progress can be made at their next meeting in Rome on 8 October.

One Twickenham source admitted he could not confidently say, at this stage, whether there would be a resolution that secures the future of the Heineken Cup.

The money from the BT deal is potentially key to the negotiations.
Premiership Rugby argue the cash injection would ensure increased revenues for the PRO12 clubs but they would have to accept the proposed structural changes.

it is little surprise that one RFU official suggested last night that it would take months to unravel the web of issues, which make these the most complex negotiations of the professional era.

Today's meeting was not called specifically to discuss Europe, it is a routine, scheduled get-together between the clubs and RFU to discuss "a range of issues".

But it is a timely opportunity for the RFU to seek more details from Premiership Rugby of their broadcasting deal with BT, the announcement of which caught Twickenham by surprise.

The RFU believe Premiership Rugby broke the contract between the two organisations by selling European rights to BT deal but they are looking to work with the clubs.

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