Fears for professionalism of Championship after RFU slash funding in half

Yorkshire Carnegie v Doncaster Knights in the Championship earlier this season (Picture: Steve Riding)
Yorkshire Carnegie v Doncaster Knights in the Championship earlier this season (Picture: Steve Riding)
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Yorkshire Carnegie director Gary Hetherington says the Rugby Football Union’s decision to almost halve Championship funding suggests the governing body no longer sees it as a professional competition.

Each club will receive “approximately £288,000” for the 2020-21 campaign – compared to the current payment of around £550,000 – and the surprise decision left many of the 12 clubs concerned about their future.

Yorkshire Carnegie director Gary Hetherington (Picture: James Hardisty)

Yorkshire Carnegie director Gary Hetherington (Picture: James Hardisty)

The RFU has come in for fierce criticism from all sections of the game, including clubs, coaches, players, staff and supporters, but it has defended its stance.

Given the second-tier competition is already struggling finanically – most clubs rely heavily on benefactors – and it has become increasingly difficult to break into the Premiership, the controversial move has been met with disdain. Nottingham chairman Alistair Bow has strongly criticised the RFU’s lack of warning, while Bedford Blues chairman Geoff Irvine branded the move Premiership ring-fencing “in all but name”.

Doncaster Knights are awaiting further information from the RFU before it makes comment while Carnegie’s response to The Yorkshire Post was only brief.

Hetherington attended the Championship meeting on Tuesday when RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney detailed the decision to clubs.

It clearly indicates that the RFU see the Championship as the top league of the community game rather than the second tier of the professional game.

Gary Hetherington

“The inference from the RFU stance, given the offer is less than half of what it has been and is only for one year, clearly indicates that the RFU see the Championship as the top league of the community game rather than the second tier of the professional game,” he said.

“And that, therefore, will have consequences for clubs who have, hitherto, aspired to be part of the professional game.”

Whereas before, the governing body seemed to aspire for the Championship to be a full-time competion, it appears it is now ready to accept it largely becoming semi-professional.

Carnegie, of course, are one of the division’s current part-time outfits after one of their main shareholders failed to deliver promised funds earlier this year, catapulting them into financial chaos.

They remain bottom without a win and are almost certainly going to be relegated into National League One where there is no RFU funding whatsoever.

Admittedly, Ealing Trailfinders – well-backed finiancially and with ambitions of reaching the elite – are likely to be able to easily withstand the six-figure loss due to their benevolent owner but many other clubs will badly feel the hit.

Bow said: “This has come as somewhat of a surprise to most if not all Championship clubs, and it puts almost all clubs in a very difficult position. There’s been no warning, opportunity for negotiation or discussion and very little notice to be able to make informed business decisions on the back of it.”

Bedford chairman Irvine said: “I believe this is giving Premiership Rugby all they want with regard ring-fencing, in all but name and with none of the financial commitment or support. 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 in the Championship.”

But Sweeney referred to “return on investment” and insisted: “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.”