Wasps threatened with winding-up order over unpaid taxes of £1m

Wasps, one of the great names in world rugby and among the most successful Premiership teams of the professional era, have been threatened with a winding-up order from the tax authorities over unpaid sums totalling more than £1m – a quarter of their officially sanctioned playing budget. The warning of action by HM Revenue and Customs was issued earlier this month and club officials are now discussing ways of clearing the debt as quickly as possible.

While Mark Rigby, the former Wasps flanker and captain who now serves as executive chairman, insisted yesterday that there was "no question" of the club going to the wall, this development will send a chill wind blowing through the English game. The Londoners, twice European champions and winners of the domestic title on four occasions between 2003 and 2008, may not be the wealthiest of the Premiership's elite sides, but together with Leicester they are comfortably the most respected.

They are not alone in having an uncomfortable time of it with HMRC. A number of clubs have become entangled in complex issues surrounding image rights agreements with leading players. Only last month, Newcastle were in negotiations over exactly how much they owed in respect of commercial arrangements involving some of their biggest box-office attractions: the England outside-half Jonny Wilkinson, the New Zealand prop Carl Hayman, the Australian full-back Matthew Burke and his fellow Wallaby, the back-row forward Owen Finegan. Wilkinson, Burke and Finegan are no longer at Kingston Park, while Hayman is due to leave for the mega-rich French club Toulon at the end of the season, but tax liabilities have a nasty way of lingering even after a player departs.

A spokesman for HMRC refused to comment on specific cases, saying only that the organisation took "a sympathetic approach to both individuals and business that have genuine short-term difficulties in paying the tax they owe". However, the authority has played a high-profile role in recent cases involving major football clubs, not least the Portsmouth affair. Portsmouth's debt to the revenue collectors, a touch over £17m, puts rugby finance in its proper perspective, but senior figures at Premier Rugby Ltd, the elite clubs' umbrella organisation, are known to be concerned by a range of tax affairs affecting their members.

Rigby said he was "entirely comfortable" with Wasps' business position. "A club's financial health can be measured in a number of different ways," he said. "In line with businesses throughout the country, we are in dialogue with HMRC throughout the year, and as far as we are concerned we're confident we can make regular payments.

"In terms of where the business is really at, we have an enormous amount of positive things ahead of us: a highly profitable Premiership match with Bath at Twickenham on Saturday, a home Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final for which we did not budget at the start of the season and the possibility of a place in the Premiership semi-finals. We also have ambitious plans to move to a new stadium in High Wycombe, for which we have strong support from the local council."

This weekend's St George's Day game should help the bank balance: well over 60,000 spectators are anticipated. However it has not been an easy campaign for the Londoners, despite their recent surge in form. They parted company with their recently-appointed chief executive, Paul Harrison, last week and will soon lose two of their best-known internationals, the outside-half Danny Cipriani and the wing Paul Sackey, to lucrative contracts overseas. The England Saxons captain George Skivington, one of the best second-row forwards in the country, is also about to leave, for Leicester.

At least they are not fighting for their competitive honour at the wrong end of the Premiership table. Leeds, promoted at the end of last season and widely expected to return from whence they came, will flick two fingers in the direction of their doubters if they beat Worcester at Headingley this weekend, and according to their head coach, the World Cup-winning England flanker Neil Back, this would be every bit as much of an achievement as the capture of the Webb Ellis Trophy in Sydney seven years ago.

"We were one of the favourite for the World Cup in 2003 and had almost unlimited resources," said Back, who has worked a minor miracle in Yorkshire alongside the director of rugby Andy Key. "This is different. Not many people gave us a chance of staying up."

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas