Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The end of Heineken Cup!

After months of negotiations about the future of Heineken Cup, the talks have now finished. Premiership rugby released the statement informing that discussions have been unsuccessful and English clubs are leaving the tournament. Same statement is expected to be be soon released by the French.

England and France have proposed the formation on new, stronger competition.  What was the reason behind such drastic decision which means the end of the most prestigious and exciting club tournament in the world?

The official Anglo-French standpoint blames unjust qualification criteria. Both countries insist that teams playing in RaboDirect Pro12 were privileged. Scottish and Italian sides had guaranteed places regardless of their league position at the end of the season. Furthermore, Welsh and Irish always had 3 out of 4 teams taking part in the tournament. The English and French clubs wanted to see Heineken Cup reduced from 24 to 20 team format and also change of qualification criteria so it could be based on position in tables.

The case is however much deeper. Premiership clubs have recently signed a record £152 million deal with new broadcaster BT Sport. They sell rights not only to the Aviva Premiership but also to European games. European Rugby Cup ltd. The organizer of both Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup competitions have a long-term broadcast partnership with Sky Sports, though.

It looks like the real reason of breakaway was not the qualification system but a dispute about money – a huge amount of money. England and France used their powerful position and left other countries in a difficult situation. Will they decide to join the new tournaments on the “rebels’” terms or will they try to somehow save Heineken Cup (i.e. by changing the structure and inviting clubs from other countries)?

The decisions will have to be made very soon, but one thing is certain – potential profit won with rugby traditions. Perhaps the new tournament will be better than Heineken Cup, but the way of finishing such an important piece of European rugby leaves a bad taste. Although I’m aware that since rugby become a professional sport, the main target for the clubs is generating profit, it always makes me sad when rugby spirit loses its battle to business calculations.