The governing body has been heavily criticised for its decision to slash funding to the second tier

RFU Cuts Championship Funding

The RFU’s decision to cut funding to the Greene King IPA Championship has been heavily criticised.

The press release from English rugby’s governing body stated that “the RFU will continue to provide financial support” to the Championship next season, but that central funding will be reduced from £480,000 to £288,000 for 2020-21.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said the reason for the 40% cut was the failure of the clubs to meet specific targets set in 2015. The Times reported the five areas as:

  • Make steps towards becoming a financially viable league, given the average annual club loss is £260,000.
  • Develop a league where more clubs have an ambition of winning promotion.
  • Increase the number of English-qualified players.
  • Develop future England coaches and referees.
  • Develop a community programme to grow the game in the club’s region.

Championship clubs have criticised the RFU’s decision, as have players and coaches.

A joint statement by Cornish Pirates and Coventry read: “Collectively we’re very disappointed with many aspects of the RFU’s decision to drastically cut the funding of the Championship clubs, which could very well have a devastating impact on some of our fellow clubs, putting livelihoods and careers at risk, and which could also put some clubs out of business.

“The Championship is an RFU tournament, meaning that the clubs do not control the league’s sponsorship rights; these are held by Twickenham. But over the last few years we have received no Championship-specific sponsorship funding, no Championship-specific TV broadcast deal, or any promotion by Twickenham of the community work which is being done by our clubs, such as wheelchair rugby, suicide prevention, and helping older people with dementia, and could also suffer as a result of these cuts.

“For the RFU to then use their own failure to deliver on these as a justification for unilaterally decimating the Championship is nothing short of outrageous.”

RFU Cuts Championship Funding

Line of duty: Jay Tyack scores a try for Cornish Pirates (Getty Images)

The timing of the announcement has also proved problematic, with clubs already recruiting for the next campaign and no news on the funding situation beyond 2021. Jersey Reds chairman Mark Morgan said: “Championship clubs have been trying for months to get clarity around funding. To be presented with this fait accompli when teams are already hiring for next season is immoral and irresponsible.

“There has been zero consultation, engagement, nor explanation before the announcement and no vision for the future of the Championship was provided. With Bill Sweeney’s heralded business background, this is astonishingly poor execution.

“The position the RFU has taken is disrespectful to the great work being done by Championship clubs and the army of volunteers that are involved at all levels who work to deliver a quality product and developmental opportunities for players and coaches alike.

“The lack of any indication about funding beyond the end of the 2020-21 season is a glaring omission and can only be aimed at creating further uncertainty.”

RFU Cuts Championship Funding

Scrum time: Jersey Reds pack down against Newcastle Falcons (Getty Images)

Jersey Reds player Charlie Beckett wrote in his Talking Rugby Union column: “A number of Championship clubs will now be forced to go to a semi-pro and part-time basis and this, I feel, is incredibly detrimental for all rugby in England.

“Without this funding I don’t see how the Championship remains a professional league and this obviously minimises the opportunities for people working in professional rugby in England. Without a competitive second tier of professional rugby for young players to play in and learn their trade, where is the next generation of England players going to come from?

“On the financial side, I struggle to understand how the RFU can justify these drastic cuts to the Championship budget while paying their international players north of £20,000 a game for playing for England. I completely appreciate the work the players put in and the sacrifices they make and I absolutely believe they should be paid, and paid well for this.

“However, when the match fees of one England squad, on one match day, costs the RFU more money than supporting an entire Championship club for an entire year, it seems something is wrong.”

Cornish Pirates, Coventry and Ealing Trailfinders had already been working on a blueprint to make the league more viable. They’ve said they’ll now look at alternative sources of funding to make the competition a success, raising the possibility of forming a breakaway league.

RFU Cuts Championship Funding

League of their own? The crowd watch Cornish Pirates v Yorkshire Carnegie at Mennaye Field (Getty)

Many have suggested this reduction in funding is the first step towards ring-fencing the Gallagher Premiership. Saracens will play in the Championship next season but are widely expected to be promoted back to the top flight in 2021-22, with the possibility of a closed 13-team league heavily mooted.

Rugby World Comment: Editor Sarah Mockford

RW writer Alan Pearey summed up this news succinctly when saying this was “another boot in the groin for Championship clubs”.

I think it’s fair to say the league isn’t working as it is – small crowds, few sponsors, clubs losing money and so on – but it has still been a proving ground for many players now starring both in the Premiership and for England.

Surely the RFU should be looking at ways to improve the league, to make it attractive to broadcasters and sponsors, rather than appearing to wash their hands of it.

Yes, clubs aren’t sustainable at present – but then the vast majority of Premiership clubs don’t turn a profit. I’d scrap the Premiership Cup and/or A league, and put the money into the Championship for developing players.

Of course, those competitions aren’t directly funded by the RFU but by Premiership Rugby – and therein lies the biggest problem in English rugby. The RFU doesn’t actually control all of English rugby.

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