Heineken Cup
Progress made over Heineken Cup compromise
ESPN Staff
October 24, 2013
The future of the Heineken Cup is still uncertain © Getty Images

The independent mediators - Graeme Mew and Stephen Dry - charged with resolving the ongoing row over the Heineken Cup have announced a series of compromises over the structure of Europe's leading domestic tournament.

While the organisers behind the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 are showing no signs of backing down on their plans to push ahead with forming and playing in the club-run Rugby Champions Cup next season, European Rugby Cup Ltd - the body in charge of the Heineken Cup - is still trying to save the under-fire tournament.

Hollow promises

  • Progress in Europe, at last. But this latest statement on the future or European rugby has one notable omission, the glossed over fact that representatives from the Aviva Premiership, Top 14 clubs and the Welsh regions did not attend the meeting in Dublin this week.
  • The desire for compromise over the distribution of wealth and structure has been in the pipeline for a while and it seems the Anglo-French clubs are closer to getting the changes they want, albeit two years on. But both have maintained they are tired of seeking compromise and are steadfast in their plans to push ahead with the Champions Cup.
  • This seems to be a hollow development. Without the Premiership, Welsh regions and Top 14 clubs returning to the table and listening to the new proposals, then there is little point in pressing ahead with these discussions and yet another nail in the coffin of the Heineken Cup.
  • Tom Hamilton

ERC called a meeting of the Heineken Cup stakeholders this week, an event representatives from the Premiership and Top 14 snubbed as they claim any chance for negotiation over the future of the Heineken Cup has been and gone. Regional Rugby Wales - the organisation in charge of Wales' four regions - were also absent from the meeting.

However, ERC is closer to bowing to the demands made by the Anglo-French clubs in the past. Both have held misgivings over the distribution of votes, wealth and a qualification process they deem to be weighted in favour of the PRO12 clubs.

The mediators have announced that the stakeholders who attended the meeting - consisting of representatives from the Rugby Football Union, FFR and the Unions which make up the PRO12 - have agreed to a new format for the Heineken Cup.

This would see the tournament consisting of 20 teams with six from the Premiership, six from the Top 14 and seven from the PRO12 - including one from each of the four Unions. In the first year of the tournament, the 20th spot would go to the winners of a play-off between teams who finish seventh in the Top 14 and Premiership.

There would then be a second-tier competition consisting of the other 18 teams in the Top 14, Premiership and PRO12 and two sides from a third competition.

Regarding the distribution of revenue, an area which teams in both the Premiership and Top 14 have held misgivings over in the past, the stakeholders have agreed to split the pot evenly between the leagues and not by Union. Though there was an added stipulation "that monies to be received by the Pro12 countries would not be less than the current levels."

The two mediators finish their statement calling for another meeting in the next 10 days "to discuss the implementation of these principles together with important operational and management issues."

It remains to be seen what the Top 14 and Premiership clubs say in response to this latest development in the ongoing saga regarding the future of the Heineken Cup. But Welsh Rugby Union chairman Roger Lewis is optimistic there will still be European rugby next season despite RRW's absence at the meeting.

"Our meeting in Dublin was very positive and constructive, and real progress has been made," Lewis said. "I remain optimistic that European cup rugby will continue next year."

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