Premiership Rugby cannot rule out more clubs joining Worcester and Wasps in being suspended from the league on financial grounds as league officials grapple with the crisis engulfing the domestic game.
Executives also detailed their reasons against allowing Worcester and Wasps to keep their P shares – that entitle clubs to a percentage of the league’s income as well as voting rights on key issues – saying “we have to be strong on this and we will be strong”. That stance appears to deliver a hammer blow to Wasps, who are hoping to achieve a quick takeover on the understanding they will not lose their P shares. Without a quick takeover there are fears Wasps, who are due to enter administration on Monday, will go bust.
Officials, meanwhile, are attempting to find a path out of the current desperate situation and views greater financial transparency from the clubs and a revamp of the domestic structure as critical to achieving that. In terms of structure, as revealed by the Guardian, it is understood senior officials favour a 10-team league and a fully professional 10-team second tier below it. Permanent change is unlikely to be introduced until 2024-25, however, leaving PRL (Premiership Rugby Limited) trying to navigate the minefield that is the rest of the current campaign and next season.
At present, Worcester have been suspended for the rest of the season and will be relegated at the end of it. Wasps will also be relegated should they go into administration on Monday and their suspension is currently indefinite. It is also understood there are fears over at least one other club’s finances and asked if Worcester and Wasps would be the last, the PRL chief executive, Simon Massie-Taylor, said: “We haven’t been given any direct red flags from clubs but I’ll be really honest and say that until I get complete financial oversight of clubs I can’t give you a direct answer on that.”
With PRL unsure of how many teams will finish the current Premiership season, planning for the following campaign is impossible. The existing plan is for the winners of the Championship to become the 14th Premiership team provided they meet the minimum criteria. With Worcester and probably Wasps set for relegation, however, that will not materialise. Massie-Taylor said: “I think our ambition to move to a 14-team league was short-sighted. We need to look at a lesser number. That is naturally happening at the moment.”
PRL also sought to warn against any expectations that Worcester will make a swift return to the Premiership and suggested the same will go for Wasps unless a takeover can be achieved quickly. It is thought that Wasps must be in position to play their next home game, on 30 October, to avoid suspension for the rest of season. Saturday’s match against Exeter has been called off and it is understood broadcasters BT Sport have already made alternative arrangements for Wasps’ televised fixture against Leicester on 23 October, suggesting that match will also be scrapped.
Supporters of Wasps and Worcester have launched campaigns urging the other clubs not to invoke their right to buy their P shares, which guarantees central funding and a share of broadcast revenue. The bid for Wasps by a consortium led by the former chief executive David Armstrong is thought to be dependent on the club holding on to its P shares but the PRL chairman, Martyn Phillips, outlined the difficulties in allowing them to do so.
“There is a scenario where a club could just write off all of its debt,” he said. “But then if it retains its P share you then have a league where the vast majority of teams still have significant debt, playing against a team that has no debt but retains the same income as them from the P share. So you have another form of disruption and inequality.
“If we think about it, those teams are very likely to go into the Championship. If they go into the Championship, but then don’t get promoted back to the Premiership, they have to sell that P share. So they could sell that P share at a sizeable profit. So we could sleepwalk into another situation where an owner has acquired something for an amount and sold it for quite a bit more. We have to be strong on this and we will be strong.”
Meanwhile, it is understood that players from Worcester and Wasps – if the latter enter administration – who seek new clubs abroad will be eligible for England selection up until the World Cup in 2023. RFU regulations state that players based outside of England cannot be selected by Eddie Jones but the decision has been made to relax that rule in light of the plight of Wasps and Worcester.
That would give players such as Joe Launchbury, Jack Willis, Alfie Barbeary and Ted Hill greater flexibility in finding new clubs.