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The only way out of the current deadlock over the future of European rugby union is for the Unions and their professional leagues to agree a new competition structure. The European Rugby Cup (ERC), which currently runs the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, is a commercial organisation with no regulatory power. International Rugby Board (IRB) regulations recognise Unions as guardians of the game who allow professional organisations to run competitions for them. That is why IRB regulation 13.2 is important – not only do the Unions have the power to decide who is sanctioned to play rugby union, they can also prevent TV contracts from being signed unless they are happy with the situation.
Premier Rugby and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) clubs are quick to point out that the current structure is unfair, as it isn’t based on merit. Why should six English clubs fail to qualify, while Italy and Scotland get to nominate two clubs each? Why should three of the four Irish and Welsh clubs in the RaboBank Direct competition get to enter, while eight of the Top 14 clubs in France are locked out?
However, it appears that in creating the Rugby Champions Cup, they have skewed things too far in their favour. The Unions perhaps recognise that it is not in the interests of European rugby union to have a situation where rich clubs from two leagues dominate the game, to the detriment of everyone else.
For example, the Celtic clubs were offered more money to compete in the Rugby Champions Cup, however the gap between what they are given and the English and French clubs receive would have grown. Why would they be enthusiastic about a competition which gives their rivals more money to take away their best players?
A simple solution to this deadlock would be to dissolve the ERC and form a new commercial organisation to run European rugby union. However, the ERC is a proud Celtic commercial organisation based in Ireland and is recognised by the Celtic Unions as having their interests at heart. It will be difficult to wrest interest away from them without offering the Irish, Welsh and Scottish clubs a very good deal indeed.