The future of European rugby
IRB must avoid Dublin bias over Europe
January 14, 2014
RFU boss Ian Ritchie is hopeful of a solution over Europe © Getty Images
At least somebody is positive! Ian Ritchie, the wonderfully optimistic CEO of the Rugby Football Union, does not do silly subterfuge so cheerfully admitted he had just jetted in from Paris when he arrived at the Rugby Writers Dinner last night. "It's pretty simple," he said. "We've got to get this sorted!" 'This' of course is the future structure of European club rugby.
Yesterday's meeting was with the French Federation and Bernard Lapasset, Chairman of the International Rugby Board. I would like to believe the IRB has the same positive attitude as Ritchie - 'we've got to get this sorted' - but from their statement last week I'm afraid they have already shown which side they are on.
After the statutory preamble reassuring the rugby world that the IRB will 'work actively with its Unions towards the goal of achieving a unified and acceptable outcome for all stakeholders', they then nail their colours to the mast.
"In the interests of the global Game, the IRB reaffirms that it will not support any cross-border competitions that are not approved by the unions of any participating clubs, rugby bodies and host countries in full accordance with IRB regulations and bye-laws."
That sounds to me like an unequivocal endorsement of the status quo. They are supporting a European competition run by ERC, the Dublin based body that has run the Heineken Cup from day one even though the English and French clubs have made it clear they want change.
Sadly, it came as no surprise. Jean-Pierre Lux, the French chairman of ERC, has obviously been lobbying hard - who can blame him, he will be out of a job if ERC disappears - but this is not really IRB business and, given the fact that many people are very suspicious about the Dublin connection they might have been better advised to keep their distance.
When the IRB relocated to Ireland it made complete sense. They were taking advantage of a very favourable tax regime that allowed them to maximise the revenues received from World Cups and their other tournaments for the benefit of the game.
However, when the Six Nations, the Four Home Unions, British Lions Ltd., ERC and the Celtic League to name just six umbrella organisations - there are probably more - followed suit it started to become incestuous.
To a large extent they share the same buildings and judging by their letterheads the same commercial team seems to represent all the European bodies. That is not in the best interests of the game.
Everybody agrees the governance of the game has to be supervised by the IRB and the national rugby unions but the clubs/regions/provinces are also stakeholders and independent businesses so they cannot be treated as naughty schoolchildren. The IRB would be well-advised to stay neutral.
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John Taylor is a former Wales international who toured with the British & Irish Lions in 1968 and 1971. Since retiring he has worked in the media and has covered the last eight Lions tours as a commentator or journalist