Wednesday, 18 September 2013

AEB: An Arrogant English Bastard's guide to the European Dispute

I’ve been reading Planet Rugby.  I know, it was a bad idea.  Some people’s hypocrisy defies belief.  Apparently “the English” are greedy, power hungry and don’t care about the growth of the rugby beyond their own personal fiefdoms.  All unlike the ever wonderful unions which are only concerned with getting more people to play the sport and have lovely Corinthian values and motives.

Now obviously that is bollocks.

But generally telling people they are stupid and ending there doesn’t tend to convince them.  I know, shocker!

So let’s have a look at some of those claims. 


Jean-Pierre Lux, chairman of the ERC after his Zimbabwean election in 2011, had this to say in the Telegraph this week:
“ERC’s contribution to the Unions and clubs last season was €44.3 million (£37 million) – double the figure from 2005-06.
Under the current Accord, 85 per cent of the distribution is shared among six European countries with the remaining 15 per cent reserved for meritocracy based on which countries’ clubs progress furthest in the tournaments.
So from the nine European weekends last weekend, Premiership Rugby earned €10.8 million (£9.1 million), while the French clubs who were more successful, earned €12.1 million (£10.2 million). England and France are both guaranteed 24 per cent of the shared fund while 13.25 per cent goes to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, with 12.25 per cent reserved for Italy.”
Some might read that and say “hey you arrogant English bastards, you already get double everyone else so where’s the beef you grasping twats?”
But let’s look at those figures in more detail.  £37m is distributed to the clubs last season with 85% of that in “the share fund”.  So £37m x 0.85 = £31.45m.  

Now PRL on behalf on behalf of ERC receive 24% of that, or £31.45m x 0.24 = £7.548m.
£7.548m is then split by PRL’s policy of giving everyone equal shares so individual clubs get 1/12th of that, or £7.548m x 0.083 = £628,999.99. 
So whilst Lux might talk of English clubs gaining so much because there are so many clubs they only receive £629k each from ERC’s coffers. 
Now how about the Scot’s? They only receive 13.25 percent, or £31.45m x 0.1325 = £4,167,125.  However they only have Glasgow and Edinburgh to support.  That means that Edinburgh get half of that cash, or 0.5 x £4,167,125 = £2,083,562 and fifty pence.
So Leicester receives 30% of the ERC money that Edinburgh gets. 
Under the French and English proposals every team in the new-Europe would receive the same income from the “share fund”.
Now please tell me, who is being greedy?  On what planet is everyone receiving a fair and equitable portion greedy?
Power hungry:

Also called a power grab by some.  I’m not denying that clubs are after more power in new-Europe.  But what is the status quo and what is the proposal by the clubs?
Currently England and France have 5 votes on ERC’s board with Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy having 2 votes each.  

In England those 5 votes are split half and half between the RFU and the clubs’ body PRL; in France the split is 1 vote for the FFR and 4 votes for the clubs’ body LNR, more on that later; in Wales the WRU and the clubs’ body RRW gets 1 vote apiece.  The other Unions/Federations keep all the votes for themselves.
So the bodies that represents 30 of the 38 clubs who actually play in ERC’s competitions (79% of competitors) gets just 8.5 of the 18 votes (47.22%).  This means that an overwhelming majority of opinion is still not enough to force changes through ERC’s current structures. 
Take the last election for ERC Chairman.
It was Jean-Pierre Lux up against Peter Wheeler.  Wheeler had the support of the clubs bodies PRL, LNR and RRW as well as the old boys at the RFU.  You might think that that means he won.  After all that is 10 of the 18 votes, a clear majority. 
But no.
You see the RFU and FFR only “loan” their votes to their clubs.  The FFR were not happy that one of their own blazers was about to be voted out by their own clubs.  Sacre bleu.  So using an obscure clause in their agreement with the LNR over “the higher interests of French rugby” the FFR pulled their votes backed Lux and caused this whole mess. 
Clearly the clubs are not happy with being disenfranchised in this way and having no control over their own future.  Who can blame them?  Would you be happy to have no say in the running of your life? 
The new proposals are that the competition is run by the people who are actually in it.  We wouldn’t deal with the likes of Phillip Browne (IRFU), Roger Lewis (WRU) or Andrea Rinaldo (FIR) but with Mick Dawson (Leinster Chef Executive), Mike Davies (Scarlets CEO) or Amelia Zatta (Treviso President).
Now look I’m not denying this is a bit dickish.  But the point is that it is no more dickish than the current status quo where the likes of the IRFU have a snobbish disdain for the muck and sweet of club rugby and refuse to deal with us. 
If the provinces in Ireland are in unison with the IRFU as much as they like to say then what exactly is the problem?
There are the same number of English clubs in ERC as from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy combined.  With no clubs being better or more worthy than any other, all clubs should have an equal say in their own futures.

I cannot see how anyone can argue, with a straight face, that it is right that the views of 30 clubs is worth less than the views of 8.
Growth of the game:

Yeah, yeah, yeah we’ve all heard it all before.  The unions are wonderful organisations that fund all the grass roots development and only have the goal of spreading the gospel of rugby union where as the evil clubs want to gobble up all the dosh and refuse to spend a penny on the grass roots.
We in Leicestershire know how wrong that is, our club does a huge amount to engage and enthuse people into the game of rugby at all levels.  The Prima Tiger Cup is 20 years old and now sees teams from half the country compete.  The club is intimately involved with schemes like Paying 4 Health and the Leicester Sports Partnership Trust. 
This isn’t an anti-RFU point as they also put a huge amount into grass roots rugby, just look at their All Schools initiative.  It is just dismissing this myth that the clubs have no interest in the wider game.
So we know that all parties are interested and involved in the growth of the amateur game.  But what about the World game?
Well under ERC’s auspices we have seen Italy lose its pro-league and we have seen them snub the Romanian champions Timisoara, on the grounds of travel difficulties.  Timisoara’s airport handles over a million passengers a year, roughly the same as Cork.  As a guide the city is roughly the size of Leicester.  It is vital for new-Europe’s credibility that they embrace teams from Romania’s professional Superliga.

The need for a third tier of European Rugby is palpable.  There is a hotch potch of regional competitions like the North Sea Cup, for teams from Germany, Holland and Belguim; the Regional Rugby Championship featuring sides from Hungary, Austria, Serbia, Croatia and  Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose 2013 season starts this Saturday and the Baltic Rugby Club Union for sides from North eastern Europe.
Last year German domestic and North Sea Cup Champions Heidelberger RK won a unifying tournament between the champions of all three tournaments but have withdrawn from this year’s North Sea Cup seeing no point in playing in a competition that has no pathway to the Amlin Challenge Cup.  Heidelberg is a town the size of Northampton or Bath, both European Champions, so these emergent pro clubs in countries like Germany must be supported.   But ERC run by its endless committees have badly failed.

Premier Rugby is treated with scepticism by many and outright hostility by others but look what it managed to achieve in only three months this summer with the World Club 7s.  They managed to bring together sides from 5 continents including the Russian clubs so far ignored by ERC and also clubs from America.  They haven’t talked about including these nations.  They’ve done it.
So for anyone reading I hope you see that the English clubs aren’t the devil and that whilst you might not like how the media have portrayed the negotiations clearly their demands are reasonable and no less than anyone else would want in their situation.  So let’s have an end to name calling and agree that we’re right, okay?


  1. Thoughtful post.

    It's not quite that simple though, in several areas, because of the history of the tournament via the old 5 Nations Committee in 1995 - to retain top NH club rugby within union control:

    (1) In some countries it is viewed as the elite competition between the best players below Test level, whereas in other countries it is viewed in terms of a competition between leagues. I doubt your typical Welsh region or Irish province supporter really views a match against Leicester in terms of P12 versus AP. The P12 post-dates the Heineken Cup.

    (2) The Celtalians took steps, painful for many, to concentrate their talent into a few merged/provincial teams. That allows significant funding of teams like Glasgow/Edinburgh and Treviso/Zebre, although I doubt that all of that money reaches those sides. They want a historic "European Cup", not a modern "Champions League". Certainly not 15 SANZARs playing at Toulon beating 8 SANZARs and 7 Islanders playing at Saracens in every season's final, and where they think this road will lead. They resent English clubs wanting equal revenue for 12 teams, having squads of 35-40% imports at a premium and whilst overall losing £16M a year. The gripe might not primarily be directed against us or our East Midlands neighbours, but it is not entirely without foundation across the entire AP in terms of business model.

    (3) Remember that the Irish, Scottish and Italian provinces/regions/clubs are owned by the IRFU, SRU and FIR. They are one and the same, to all practical intents. There is not the individual club ownership as in France and England (and 87.5% as in Wales, the Dragons being I recall 50% owned by the WRU).

    (4) Lux is not a pure union scrooge, being an ex-LNR VP and close friend of Serge Blanco. The 2011 ERC election reminds us about the duplicity of the French. The LNR has said very little. It will be interesting when Pierre Camou of the FFR finally returns from his holidays. The suspicion remains that LNR will use the BT money of PRL just to bid up beIN and Canal+ to expand the Top 14 instead on the "old" ERC weekends. ERC and PRL will then both have TV contracts to show cross-border rugby, but neither they or Sky/BT will have any product to deliver. PRL will then lose a large slice of the BT Sport pie.

    (5) And whilst the RFU might want to improve the position of English clubs in relation to qualification and revenue distribution issues, where there is clear communality of interest with the clubs, I am not so sure that they want to empower PRL any further. Nothing is being said about favouring leaving ERC or sanctioning any new competition. The RFU has its own agenda in relation to RWC 2015 and participation agreement renewal. One suspects they would prefer the FFR or IRB to dispose of this "problem" for them, once qualification/revenue distribution concessions have been extracted within ERC.

    And control/power is what this is about, for good or bad. Qualification and revenue distribution issues can be changed, with difficulty and with sufficient pressure, but control is not easily changed because unions hold 10.5 of the 18 votes (even before the FFR "steal back" the 4 votes of LNR!).

    1. 1) Well that is the paradigm shift in attitudes that is causing most of the problems!

      2) As you say they resent all teams being equal. I've got no time for that attitude. They want us as equals or not at all. That point is surely non-negotiable from PRL. How English clubs chose to run themselves is only the business of the clubs. It does not matter where their players come from nor where the money comes from, that is the club's concern only.

      3) Treviso is independent too. Otherwise if that really is the case then it shouldn't matter if we deal with the Leinster CEO or the IRFU. As they used to refuse to deal with us now we refuse to deal with them. As I say its not big or clever but it is a point of principal that we deal with the teams that actually play in the comp not some blazers.

      4)I don't want to comment on pure speculation other than that I have seen no evidence of any of that at all.

      5) RFU already let PRL organise domestic comps themselves. They've made the call that destroying the clubs would be incredibly expensive and incredibly stupid. So really they seem perfectly happy to keep out of club affairs other than making sure it is in the clubs economic interests to produce English players.

      As I say in the article of course it is about power and who runs the game. That is why the clubs have had to resign from ERC and hopefully reform a new comp with all involved with a fair structure that we are happy with.

  2. (1) I fully concur that is what is causing the conflict, or rather the ever escalating conflict (it's been there since 1995-96) with the ever diverging domestic ownership model.

    (2) I think it's different perceptions of equality - the Celtalians would suggest what is "equal" about us (PRL and RFU together) owning 16.67% of the ERC shares and having 24% (of the reserved 85%) of the ERC dividends and 28% of the ERC board votes? Same for the French. The second sentence causes issues, if you believe in a reasonably level playing field rather than a French final every season (minus French players!). Whatever we do, not even our teams can ever hope to compete with French teams in pure money terms. Draw a line across France, and below the line is the national game in an equally large/wealthy country.

    (3) True re: Benetton, but they are not in rugby to make money at all. IRFU own 16.67% of ERC and Leinster, so why shouldn't the IRFU be sending who they want to ERC? It's their shareholding and investment in both?

    (4) Watch this space.......LNR to serve break clause on Canal+ and get them and beIN into a bidding war? They then don't need any Anglo-French competition. The French press and LNR are silent

    (5) RFU know there is no going back to 1995 and adopting a different model, whether or not they would want to. The RFU want to extract qualification concessions and maximise revenue for their clubs. Commonality of interest. Why do the RFU want to relinquish all control over cross-border club rugby - cui bono? Residual control assists with wider player development agenda.

    You have hit the nail on the head - all about power. But that's where the commonality of interest breaks down, both between England and France and within England and France. I fear we will now witness a masterclass in sporting politics from Lapasset and Camou, the appointment of Maw being the first step. Wheeler got shafted in 2011, and this will be worse.......c'est la vie, but we will at least make non-control gains from the Celtalians.....