European Rugby
Euro chiefs confident peace deal will be struck
ESPN Staff
July 17, 2013
The Heineken Cup on the turf of the Millennium Stadium, venue for the 2011 final, Leinster v Northampton, Heineken Cup, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, May 20, 2011
Will next season's battle for European glory be the last time we see the Heineken Cup? © PA Photos

European Rugby Cup (ERC) officials remain confident that the row threatening the future of the Heineken Cup can be resolved before the end of next season.

The stage is set for what could be the last battle for European supremacy with stakeholders yet to reach agreement on the format of the competition and the distribution of revenue beyond next season - the last covered by the existing deal.

The English and French clubs have served notice to leave both the Heineken Cup and the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup after this season unless the tournament structure and commercial arrangements are re-vamped. The PRO12 sides have so far refused to concede any ground on either issue.

Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body representing English rugby's top clubs, and their French counterparts Ligue Nationale de Rugby want the Heineken Cup reduced to a 20-team tournament - from the current 24-team format - and a change to the qualification system that they believe favours the PRO12 teams by guaranteeing places regardless of league position at the end of the season.

Adding further fuel to the dispute is a row over the TV rights to European club rugby's premier competition. ERC has a deal in place with current broadcast partner Sky Sports while Premiership Rugby have sold the rights to those games played by their club to BT Vision.

The start of the season represents a key stage in the dispute with clubs set to embark on the new campaign unaware of what will be required to qualify for European rugby in 2014-15 - but ERC chief executive Derek McGrath is confident a deal will be struck.

"The responsibility we have is to encourage everybody to focus on what it is we are trying to achieve and the needs of European rugby," he told PA Sport. "We can't really control what other things people are looking at. The deadline is here in Cardiff next May.

"We have to think of the fans and we have to think of our broadcasters and sponsors as well, the uncertainty isn't good for professional sport if we are not able to explain where we are going.

"It is very important that all of our stakeholders focus on that. I am confident, more than confident it (the Heineken Cup) will still be here (after the end of this season)."

McGrath has stressed the need for all parties to enter the next round of talks - not expected before September - prepared to compromise. He said: "The reality is we want to find an agreement which will be in the interests of European club rugby, but then it has also got to work for each of the six countries, individually and collectively.

"If we don't find that, we are not going to get something which is possible for each of those six countries. What we are looking for is move away perhaps from what we have had in recent times, which is rhetoric.

"We need to get around the table with all the stakeholders ready to engage in discussion and to recognise that everybody is going to have to give in order to find accommodation, which is the history of these discussions.

"I understand there are strong positions and there is a lot of stake for both sides - a lot to lose and a lot to win. When we have been through this before we have clearly had the same situations where there is a variety of positions adopted, but everybody, and it will continue to be the case, wants it to continue and to get bigger and better. There is no doubt about that."

Speaking at the confirmation that the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff will host next season's tournament finale, Welsh Rugby Union group chief executive Roger Lewis said: "It's too good to lose," he said. "The bottom line is - no-one is awash with dosh in rugby. No-one. "That's why everyone must come to their senses with a solution. Everyone in the game in Europe needs this competition. First for rugby and second for finance. I think we will all come to our senses and make sure this competition continues."

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