Future of European club competition resolved
DUBLIN (AP) — The future of European club rugby was resolved on Thursday after the unions of all the Six Nations countries agreed to replace the outgoing Heineken Cup with a new competition — the European Rugby Champions Cup.
A statement released by European Rugby said the revamped tournament will contain 20 clubs — six from the French league, six from the English league and seven from the Pro 12 league that features teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy. For the inaugural season, the 20th club will come from the winner of a playoff between a French and English club.
There will be equal distribution of funds between the three leagues and the stakeholders have signed a heads of agreement on an initial eight-year deal.
English clubs, in particular, have been pushing for change because they were unhappy at sides from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy getting guaranteed spots in Europe’s top competition. A dispute over TV rights in Britain also left the competition’s future on an even more precarious footing but broadcasters BT Sport and Sky Sports have agreed to share coverage of the new tournament.
“This equitable, long-term agreement will provide the platform for rugby union to continue to expand across Europe,” said Ian Ritchie, chief executive of England’s Rugby Football Union, “increasing interest and involvement in the game at all levels.”
The Heineken Cup’s current deal expires after this season and there was a real danger there would be no European club rugby next season because of the impasse between the unions that stretched back to November last year.
The new tournament will come under the control of the IRB, rugby’s world governing body.
The equivalent of football’s Champions League, the Heineken Cup has been running since the 1995/96 season and has expanded into a popular 24-team competition featuring the top teams from the Six Nations countries.