Worcester Warriors have been suspended from all competitions with immediate effect and placed into administration.
The Gallagher Premiership club’s darkest day is also accompanied by the prospect of automatic relegation due to administration.
Under Rugby Football Union rules, a club that enters administration can expect to be demoted.
But Worcester could avoid playing Championship rugby next season in the event of them providing sufficient evidence of no-fault insolvency through an appeals process.
The Warriors failed to meet an RFU deadline requesting proof of insurance cover and funding for the club’s monthly payroll.
Twickenham bosses also wanted evidence of a “credible plan to take the club forward” by 5pm on Monday.
But the crisis-hit club have not responded to those requests, and their season has now been plunged into cold storage, with Worcester men’s and women’s teams both suspended.
Worcester are burdened by debts totalling more than £25million, including at least £6m in unpaid tax, amid growing anger felt towards owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham, who have been accused of asset-stripping the club.
The RFU said: “The owners of Worcester Warriors have not met the RFU’s 5pm deadline to evidence insurance cover, availability of funds to meet the monthly payroll and a credible plan to take the club forward.
“The RFU has therefore suspended Worcester Warriors from all competitions, including the Gallagher Premiership, Allianz Premier 15s, U18s Academy Cup and Allianz Cup with immediate effect.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said it had agreed with a request from club directors to place Worcester into administration.
“We understand the past few months have been difficult for the players, staff and fans of Worcester Warriors Rugby Football Club,” a DCMS spokesperson said.
“We have worked around the clock with the club’s directors, the PRL (Premiership Rugby) and the RFU to explore all possible options, but during this time the owners have been unable to secure new investment for the club.
“In order to give the club the best possible chance of survival, and to protect a significant taxpayer investment, we have today agreed to the directors’ request to place the club into administration.
“We will now apply to the court to appoint administrators and will begin work to explore all possible options to protect creditors and preserve the local rugby offering in Worcester.”
Worcester’s Sixways Stadium is now closed – staff were given until Monday afternoon to collect belongings – with no indication when, or if, it will reopen.
In a statement released by Worcester, Goldring and Whittingham said: “We are grateful to DCMS and Sport England as the Covid-19 loan programme manager for accepting our request to place the club into administration.
“Both the club and DCMS will continue to co-ordinate efforts to find a rescue for the club if there is any possibility of it being saved.
“The administrators will assess any rescue options for some or all of the business as and when offers are made, while ensuring public funds are protected.”
Culture minister Stuart Andrew said last week that the Government will “imminently” send in professional advisers to take a closer look at the club and potential options.
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney added: “We appreciate this is incredibly difficult news for fans, staff and players.
“We would like to thank the staff and players who have worked tirelessly over recent weeks to enable matches to continue.
“We met with players and staff last week to explain why this action would be necessary. Regrettably, without assurances in place, we have had to take this action to protect everyone’s best interests.
“We hope a buyer can be secured to allow Worcester Warriors and The University of Worcester Warriors to return to professional league rugby.
“While it is the responsibility of each business owner to manage their individual finances, we will look at learnings from this situation to see what regulation can be put in place to provide all parties with more financial transparency.”
Premiership Rugby confirmed that Worcester’s league game at Gloucester on Saturday will not take place.
“Although the RFU decision to suspend Worcester Warriors from all competitions won’t be a surprise to many, I know this will continue to be a distressing time for the players, staff and supporters at the club and we will continue to support them where we can during this next phase,” Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor said.
“This decision affects other clubs in the league, too, and we are sorry for the disruption it has caused Gloucester Rugby and its supporters, whose home fixture will no longer take place this weekend.”
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