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Rugby bosses slammed for Championship cuts

ENGLISH rugby bosses were castigated yesterday for making sweeping cuts to Championship budgets at the risk of jobs and the survival of second-tier clubs.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) confirmed yesterday that it will cut Championship funding in half to “approximately £288,000 per club” for the 2020-21 campaign.

The move plunges the 12 Championship teams’ futures into doubt and will put on and off-field jobs on the line.

The second-tier clubs could be forced to seek more loans from top-flight Premiership counterparts to cover costs and the move will widen the gap between the two domestic leagues.

Nottingham chairman Alistair Bow strongly criticised the RFU’s lack of warning on the move, while Bedford Blues chairman Geoff Irvine said that it comprises Premiership ring-fencing “in all but name.”

“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,” said Bow.

“There has been no warning, no opportunity for negotiation or discussion and very little notice to be able to make informed business decisions on the back of it.

“Clubs, including Nottingham, have been in the process of securing contracts for players and coaches in recent months and these will need to be reviewed alongside a thorough assessment of what our future trading and performance might look like.

“It will also come as a huge shock to players, coaches and support staff across the game and I am sure will affect many people’s livelihoods.

“The Nottingham Rugby board are extremely disappointed with the RFU announcement and subsequent reduction in funding, but we are even more disappointed and somewhat astounded at the underhand and deplorable way that we feel this has been communicated.

“To give Championship clubs next to no notice to be able to take action is not acceptable and we will be meeting urgently to review our strategy and consider our position going forwards.”

Chief executive Bill Sweeney claimed that the RFU could not justify continuing with the increased funding the governing body has provided between 2016 and 2020.

But that led Bedford chairman Irvine to condemn the move as handing the English Premiership a ring-fenced top flight by default, with budget cuts likely to deny Championship clubs the wherewithal to bridge the gap between the leagues.

“Obviously we are very disappointed with the decision of the RFU, in particular the timing of the announcement, but the board at Bedford Blues are determined that they will deal with the outcome and plan forward,” said Irvine.

“I believe this is giving Premiership Rugby all that they want with regard to ring-fencing, in all but name and with none of the financial commitment or support.

“The significant reduction has come as a shock to the clubs, we will all need some time to consider our position.

“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 their playing careers in the Championship.”

Sweeney’s description of the Championship as “a useful way for players to get additional developmental experience” serves as a body blow to private investors into England’s second-tier competition.

The RFU boss insisted: “This is a decision based on a principle of ensuring levels of investment are geared to a clear return on investment.

“There are many worthy requirements from both the professional and community game and we need to make sure that every pound spent is clearly justified.

“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.”

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