Wasps will not play Championship rugby next season after the RFU withdrew their licence to play within the league structure.
We expected to see a Wasps Championship stint next season. Instead the six-time champions of England will now move to the bottom of the playing pyramid after failing to meet a deadline set when the RFU first approved Wasps’ entry into the second tier of English rugby next season.
Wasps Holdings Limited entered into administration in October 2022, a move that saw 167 people lose their jobs and the Premiership shrink to 11 teams following Worcester Warriors’ collapse.
In its statement that broke the news, the RFU referenced commitments that were made to pay rugby creditors and put in place ‘suitable governance structures including a majority independent board and a process for managing risk’.
The RFU also expressed its concern ‘about the lack of progress engaging coaching staff and players’ and that the ‘club stated that it could not meet these commitments, recommit to participating in the Championship in 2023/24 or engage staff of players until further finance was secured.
Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO said: “This is not the outcome anyone in rugby wanted and all those involved with the club will be deeply disappointed. We have worked with the new owners for the past six months to try to ensure that a robust plan could be put in place for the club to continue to play in the Championship while players and staff could receive monies owed to them.
“The RFU is working closely in partnership with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players Association to ensure players are supported. We are also working together at pace to ensure the game emerges from this challenging time on a strong and sound financial footing.”
Official statement on the Wasps Championship fall-out
In a 793-word statement, Wasps said they twice requested extension on deadlines but were refused, and that they had secured a kit deal, significant sponsorship, as well as having a choice of grounds to play at. Below is the statement in full, that was entitled ‘Our exit from the Rugby Football Union’.
“It has been an all-consuming 7 months since the 17th of October 2022. Our first task was to save and secure the brand, the IP, and the legend – and in that we have been successful. Since then, we have been constantly involved in the resurrection of the club with the intention of competing in the 2023 RFU Championship.
“Operating in a void between regulatory authorities that were managed by strict governance requirements, and a championship that had not been engaged in our membership and who, perhaps understandably, offered some resentment to our inclusion, has been challenging.
“Our recovery to date has been managed by a very small team who have been dealing with the operational and financial issues and requirements of the RFU and PRL since our engagement in November 2022 when we were successful in the approval process to enter the RFU Championship in September 2023.
“That approval was subject to initial and then continuing requirements around financing, ground, rugby creditors and the demanding governance provisions. During our approval process, and since, we have continually reminded the RFU that we would not repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing a single point of failure, and that we would not commit to any employment or contract unless we were sure that we would be able to fund the expenditure for the season.
“We have embarked on a wide ranging, and professional search, for suitable funding. From the outset we had interest from various sources who engaged in their own due diligence, some in depth to the extent that they had direct contact with the governing bodies. Whilst the investment interest continues, we regret to say that the current state of rugby finances, the lack of clarity on the league structure and concerns over promotion has caused the investor group to remain silent and fatigued.
“On two occasions we asked the RFU for an extension of time to secure funding and to satisfy the rugby creditors. Our requests were refused on both occasions. Whilst we understand the need for regulatory conformity and the administration of the league, the only reason we needed that extension was for the RFU to establish a clear vision and direction of travel so that our investor pool were able to see equitable funding for the Championship and a clear pathway to promotion.
“Indeed, the recent revelations around the possible ring fencing of the premiership for 3 to 5 years to protect it has further weakened our investment position. There is the suggestion that a route for promotion could exist with a play-off between the bottom of the premiership playing the winner of the Championship. Given there is a deficit of £4m+ in funding between the Premiership and the Championship, then the only route of promotion includes the very problem of excessive funding that perpetuates the business system failure.
“We had made progress in certain areas though. We have a kit deal, significant sponsorship from a global brand, and a choice of grounds to play at. We have 232 players and 37 coaches available to select a team from. We have also identified strong local authority support for our own stadium, and whilst some have criticised us for even considering a new stadium option, their rush to judgement ignores the stark reality that rugby at the higher levels needs supplementary income to survive without owner funding – which is the single point of failure we are determined to avoid. Rugby alone will not provide a sustainable business, until it is properly governed and financially supported.
“The arrangements and direction regarding the rugby creditors has also been troublesome. We were handed the responsibility of others to identify, validate, audit, and settle the rugby creditor claims inherited from the previous administration. We established a system to manage this process and acknowledged our moral obligations to complete it.
“Following our regrettable exit from the Championship, our understanding is that the rugby creditors will now revert back to the administrators for the claims to be pursued against Wasps Holdings Limited (In Administration). We will work with the administrators on this.”
What happens now if there is no Wasps Championship stint?
The club statement goes on: “The journey continues with utter determination and commitment to ensure that Wasps continues its 156-year history in a sustainable rugby environment that shares the vision and values that the new club aspires to.
“We are extremely grateful for the loyal support and concern from our global fan base. Our silence has been deliberate and necessary. Firstly, we had nothing definitive to say that couldn’t have changed the following day, and often did, and secondly, we only recovered our social media accounts and rebuilt a new web site in the first week of May. You will hear more from us soon.”
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