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Twickenham's RWC debenture problem
Richard Seeckts
October 16, 2013

While all with an interest wait for the RFU to reveal its position on the future of European rugby, a much smaller group - Twickenham's 2,900 debenture holders - have been waiting over a year for clarification on their ticket rights for Rugby World Cup 2015.

The RFU is reluctant to say much until arrangements for debenture holders are agreed, following negotiations with World Cup organisers. This needs to be done before RWC 2015 announces its ticketing policy in November. RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie has described the issue as "multi-faceted" without showing his hand, therefore adding to the intrigue.

It began when Ritchie wrote to debenture holders in 2012 informing them that they would have no automatic right to buy RWC 2015 tickets. The World Cup is an IRB event which demands 'clean stadiums', i.e. with no pre-sold tickets. Up to 8,000 seats at Twickenham are normally available to debenture holders with priority. Debenture holders were up in arms, believing that they should have the same rights for World Cup matches as any other match at Twickenham.

In fact, debenture holders fall into two categories. Those issued in 2006 for 10 years carry a right to purchase a ticket for "each Rugby Union Football match played at Twickenham".

Later issues of debentures include a crucial change of wording, giving holders ticket rights to all Twickenham matches "organised and controlled by the RFU". In these cases, debenture holders don't have a clear right to buy World Cup tickets, although there are reports of some feeling that the RFU may not have been entirely open in marketing these debentures, knowing they would give no entitlement to a World Cup.

The very fact that the RFU changed its small print several years ago strengthens the case of the 2006 issue debenture holders. The RFU acknowledged a potential problem and acted to prevent it getting worse. They couldn't change the terms of older debentures, which amount to contracts that were in place before any agreement with the IRB to stage a World Cup.

Quite why debenture holders have been kept waiting over a year for a resolution is a mystery. The situation is not without precedent, debenture holders and season ticket holders having been granted ticketing priority at previous World Cups. For example, the Welsh Rugby Union's 2008 annual report states: "The Group continued to secure access to purchase tickets for additional events staged at the Millennium Stadium. Debenture holders found themselves being offered the opportunity to see Rod Stewart, the Police, Monster Trucks, Speedway and of course RWC 2007; with preferred access to tickets for the events listed."

Of course, average rugby fans needn't be gushing sympathy for a minority of affluent individuals who use their financial muscle to queue-jump. Debenture holders, however, have poured many millions into Twickenham's re-development for which the average punter can be grateful. Without them, the South Stand might not be there; the RFU must avoid biting off the hand that feeds it.

The wait is nearly over for debenture holders, but an unsatisfactory resolution for them could spark a damaging row for the RFU.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Richard Seeckts' rugby career consisted of one school match where he froze on the wing and despite no substitutes being available he was withdrawn from the game at half-time for mocking the opposition's line-out calls. Thereafter Richard and the sport agreed active participation was not the way ahead, but that has not prevented him from avidly writing about and watching the game. He now contributes his random observations to the Crooked Feed blog on ESPNscrum.com