RFU face fierce backlash after slashing Championship funding in half: ‘It’s ring-fencing in all but name’

Governing body have been accused of cutting off the rest of the country after giving the Premiership the first step towards abolishing relegation by drastically cutting funding of the second tier

The RFU is facing a backlash to plans to cut funding of the Championship in half
The RFU is facing a backlash to plans to cut funding of the Championship in half

The Rugby Football Union is facing a fierce backlash after confirming its intention to cut its funding of the second-tier Championship in half, just five months before the 2020/21 season gets underway.

Clubs in the Greene King IPA Championship were furious to learn on Tuesday morning that the £8m currently shared between the 12 clubs is set to be halved by the RFU and Premiership Rugby, with the move making it seem an inevitability that the top flight will be ringfenced sooner rather than later.

Championship chief executives were contacted by RFU boss Bill Sweeney shortly before a scheduled meeting at Twickenham on Tuesday to inform them of the decision, which is set to have a drastic impact on the players and staff at the 12 clubs who are already struggling financially.

With Greene King’s sponsorship of the league also in doubt, the RFU’s decision paints a bleak future for English rugby outside of the top tier.

In a statement confirming the move, RFU chief executive Sweeney said that the decision to revert the league to the funding model last used in 2015 is due to failure to meet “a set of objectives and deliverables”, and is “based on a principle of ensuring levels of investment are geared to a clear return on investment.

He added that in the RFU’s opinion, the Championship is “not the primary place where Premiership and England players are discovered and developed”.

Sweeney said: “This is a decision based on a principle of ensuring levels of investment are geared to a clear return on investment. There are many worthy requirements from both the professional and community game and we need to make sure that every pound spent is clearly justified. The decision we have made is connected to a wider review of strategic objectives and resource allocation.

“The decision taken in 2015 to increase Championship funding significantly was against a set of objectives and deliverables that we do not believe have been achieved.

“Ultimately the difference in the levels of funding between the current agreement and our new commitment will not be the deciding factor for clubs with aspirations for promotion and will always require additional investment. The gateway is still open for clubs to get into the Premiership if they have the necessary financial resources and meet the minimum standards required.

"The Championship is, and will continue to be, a useful way for players to get additional developmental experience, but we do not believe it is the primary place where Premiership and England players are discovered and developed.”

The RFU’s portion of funding will drop from £550,000 per club a season to £288,000 for the 2020/21 campaign, with no commitment of funding beyond next season, while Premiership Rugby will slash its £1.7m funding pot to £850,000 before scrapping it completely from 2021/22.

The news has prompted a furious reaction from Championship clubs, with Nottingham Rugby chairman Alistair Bow issuing a statement to say: “The Nottingham Rugby board are extremely disappointed with the RFU announcement and subsequent reduction in funding, but we are even more disappointed and somewhat astounded at the underhand and deplorable way that we feel this has been communicated.

“To give Championship Clubs next to no notice to be able to take action is not acceptable and we will be meeting urgently to review our strategy and consider our position going forwards.”

Bedford Blues chairman Geoff Irvine added: "I believe this is giving Premiership Rugby all that they want with regard to ring-fencing, in all but name.

“The value of the Championship has not been recognised or rewarded by the RFU, in particular when you consider how many of the England playing squad started their playing careers in the Championship.”

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