Talks About Heineken Cup Future Held In Secret As English, French Clubs Hold Firm
Talks "are being held to try to save the Heineken Cup," as English and French clubs "draw up their alternatives," according to Paul Rees of the London GUARDIAN. Some English and French clubs "served notice last June that they would be pulling out of the tournament when the current accord ends in May '14." Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cup organizers European Rugby Cup Ltd. organized three stakeholder meetings this season, "but little progress was made, with the English and French clubs arguing for wholesale change to the way the competitions are run." The clubs "want the number of teams in the Heineken Cup to be cut from 24 to 20," with another 20 competing in the Amlin; qualification from all three leagues involved -- the Premiership, Top 14 and Pro 12 -- to be based on finishing positions; the tournaments to be run through an equal partnership of unions and participating teams; and, something the English clubs say is non-negotiable, a new television partner. ERC "has not scheduled a meeting to discuss a new accord, but officials from the unions involved have had meetings with each other and the clubs, in what one called shuttle diplomacy, Henry Kissinger-style." Officials said, "Time is running out, and there is an increasing acknowledgement that this is about not tinkering with one or two regulations, but a shakeup that will effectively mean a new competition. If we do not sort it out, there will be no Heineken Cup after next season." TV "will be the biggest obstacle, with ERC having negotiated a contract extension with Sky" -- a deal the English and French clubs maintain "has no legal basis because they had already served notice to pull out when it was agreed" -- and the Premiership clubs committed to providing a cross-border element for BT Vision next season (GUARDIAN, 4/20).