The prospect of next season’s Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup competitions being run off as normal looks particularly bleak after the decision of both the French and English clubs to boycott the 2007/08 European tournaments.
Today brought confirmation from the French clubs’ chief Serge Blanco that there will a mass French boycott of the tournaments next term, following a flurry of meetings of the board of Ligue Nationale de Rugby at the Paris Orly Airport Hotel.
The threat of a withdrawal by the French was first made in January and today’s vote was carried by a 14-3 majority.
England’s Guinness Premiership clubs have officially opted to join the French in boycotting next season’s competitions, throwing Europe’s premier two tournaments into serious doubt.
French and English clubs have been central to the Heineken Cup’s success, in particularly. Between them, France and England have won nine out of the 11 Heineken Cup finals since the 1995/96 season. The only exceptions being the wins for Ulster in 1999 and Munster in 2006.
Following discussions with LNR, England’s Premier Rugby issued a statement. It read: “The current agreement for the European Rugby Cup (ERC), which has been in place for the last eight years, comes to an end after this season.
“This agreement did not include any shareholding for the tournaments’ participants – the clubs. Negotiations on a new agreement have now been taking place for over 12 months, during which such club shareholdings were a fundamental principle.
“ERC is Europe’s foremost international club tournament and all clubs have contributed substantially, alongside the Unions, to its sporting and commercial success over the last eight years.
“It is appropriate that they should become equal partners with the Unions in any future agreement. LNR and PRL both believe a position was clearly reached last year which confirmed that clubs would have a much greater say in any minimum seven-year agreement, and that they would both hold shares in the new ERC.
“The clubs remain by this position reached in October 2006 as the basis for any future agreement.
“Regrettably, while the Federation Francaise de Rugby (FFR) and the Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR) have confirmed this position, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) appears no longer to accept this.
“As a result, LNR and PRL clubs are not willing to participate in the absence of a new agreement based on last year’s position, and which is inclusive of all parties.”
England’s RFU released a statement this afternoon, expressing their regret with regards to “the withdrawal of the French and English clubs from the Heineken Cup.”
“The sponsors, unions and clubs involved in the tournament will suffer hugely as a result of the non-participation of the clubs with thousands of supporters being deprived of witnessing some excellent rugby,” the statement continued.
“Withdrawal from the European Competitions puts PRL and the Premiership clubs is in clear breach of clause 5.1 of the LFA (the agreement between the RFU and Premier Rugby) which still has two years to run. The RFU will take further legal advice on the developing situation before reaching a final decision on its position over the next few days.”
The ERC are expected to meet next Wednesday – April 11 – to discuss the situation.