Bath owner Bruce Craig has unleashed a vicious attack on the Heineken Cup and has warned the RaboDirect PRO12 clubs that they face ‘financial oblivion’ if they do not joint the newly-formed ‘Rugby Champions Cup’, led by the English and French. Craig is deputy chairman of Premiership Rugby, the entity that has been pushing the hardest for a new competition run away from the auspices of the ERC.
While they, along with the LNR, have made it clear that all the PRO12 clubs are welcome to join the competition, none have yet done so. The competition is also yet to be ratified by any of the national unions, the ERC or IRB, muddying the waters as to whether it is even legally allowed to go ahead. Craig is insistent that if it does not, the PRO12 clubs will face an uncertain future given the loss of revenue.
“If the competition is not approved then that would have absolutely catastrophic implications for Celtic rugby,” he told BBC Sport. “Celtic teams would be without significant revenues. The Heineken Cup is finished, it’s over. The Rugby Champions Cup is a way to save European rugby.
“If all 38 [European] clubs were actually given the opportunity to come into the Rugby Champions Cup, I believe all 38 would probably agree. It’s basically the Celtic Unions that would stop them from participating.
“Everyone would prefer that we didn’t go down the legal route. We all want a competition that is a fabulous European competition. The reality though is that if there was to be a blockage there are obvious questions around restraint of trade. This new Champions Cup would generate in the region of 60 to 70 million Euros minimum, which would actually cut out a big percentage of the English and the French clubs’ losses.”
According to reports, English clubs currently receive in the region of £800k for participating in the Heineken Cup. Some Celtic sides collect closer to £3m from ERC. Craig says PRL are showing no signs of bowing to ERC’s wishes for compromise, and are unmoved in their desire to go ahead with the Champions Cup.
“At the moment, for the 2014-15 season there is no European rugby,” Craig said. “This competition is one in which all the clubs are invited to play and there will be an equal distribution of money on a per team basis.
“The reality of it is that if the Rugby Champions Cup doesn’t happen, then the Celts will not be playing in a competition and they won’t have those distributions from that competition. People say the English and French clubs are greedy. The fact is we are losing money.
“In terms of sustainability and the future of the game, this is an opportunity for us to increase revenues into the English and French club game which gives it more viability. The unions should be approving that so there is continuity in English, French and Celtic rugby, because if there isn’t, there would be financial oblivion for the Celtic countries.”