Gosper hoping for euro resolution
September 13, 2013
IRB chief executive Brett Gosper is among the many fans of the Heineken Cup © Getty Images
International Rugby Board chief executive Brett Gosper has urged European rugby's stakeholders to work through their 'growing pains' and secure the long-term future of the Heineken Cup.
The future of Europe's premier club competition has been shrouded in doubt since last year when Premiership Rugby, representing the leading English clubs, and their French counterparts, Ligue Nationale de Rugby, served notice to leave at the end of this season in a bid to force through changes to the qualification criteria, structure and the distribution of revenue.
However, those radical proposals have been resisted by their partners and talks between all the competing nations - England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales - have so far failed to produce a workable compromise meaning that as things stand, this season's competition will be the last.
The row intensified this week with Premiership Rugby's tabling of an alternative Anglo-French competition that they claim could start as soon as next year. It is understood that any new cross-border competition would require the support of the respective unions and the IRB, but Gosper is hoping that it does not come to that and that one of the jewels in rugby's crown survives.
"The Heineken Cup is a great competition and it forms the base of the game in many ways for some of the unions that participate in it," Gosper told ESPN. "It is a true European competition so obviously we would like to see the maintenance of that competition."
Gosper insists the IRB will not interfere in the debate but is wary of losing a tournament that has thrilled fans for the last 18 years. "It's not for us to make a call on the exact make-up of their competitions and money splits and the rest of it but we certainly hope that they resolve the negotiations going on in that area.
"But a European Cup competition, like the Heineken Cup, is a terrific contributor to the game. We are relatively young professional sport suffering growing pains and we've got to work our way through them. Certainly, a European-wide competition like that is in the interest of the game."
Despite concerns at the possible loss of one of the sport's biggest draws, Gosper also believes that the fierce debate between clubs and unions surrounding the future of the competition is also a positive sign. "The good news is that the strength of the international game and the club game is growing and each has to define their space and live with each other and contribute to each other.
"There will always be a bit of friction where there is an overlap, they are the same players at the end of the day. But the good part in all of this is that is shows there is a healthy growth and we need to manage our way through that."
Gosper also has sympathy for the clubs' plight, adding: "These are businesses and they want to make sure that they are making money, that they are viable, and not leaving things on the table that they would rather have in their pocket. It's a completely understandable tension in the game. We are a pretty young professional sport and these are understandable growing pains."
A mediator is set to be introduced in a bid to find some common ground with Gosper the latest encourage a compromise. He said: "Both sides have got to understand each other's standpoint and try to find a way where they both come out of it happy with what has been decided."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.