When the news of massive funding cuts to RFU Championship sides was announced it was met with widespread outrage, anger, and sadness. Undoubtedly, to an extent, these feelings are valid. The RFU has sold the Championship up the river especially with regards to the timing of the decision.
Naturally, there has been some hyperbole and hysteria thrown in with reactions. The effect of this decision by the RFU will have resounding effects on Championship clubs. However, claims that this is devastating to rugby as a whole are disingenuous at best.
Taking into consideration wider issues of sustainable rugby, this may cause pain in the short-term but could prevent disastrous consequences later down the line.
Timing to Cut Undoubtedly Horrendous
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The treatment of the Championship clubs in the decision has been at best poor by the RFU. Rumours have circulated that the clubs were informed the morning of the meeting that this cut was on the agenda. Then being quoted KPI’s that the clubs were not aware were conditional on funding continuing. This makes the shock value of the decision even more evocative and lends further sympathy to the clubs.
On top of this, the cut occurring in February is a massive challenge for clubs. Most premiership clubs operate at least 12 months in the future when it comes to contracts and signings. Therefore to give Championship clubs less than six months’ notice of funding cuts is wholly irresponsible from the RFU.
The overall handling of the situation on the RFU has been and should be deplored. They appear to have operated with little thought of the immediate effects of their decision and the damage this could cause.
The Saddening Human Cost
Naturally a cut like this does have a large human cost. Players, coaches and staff alike will face pay cuts or the potential to lose their jobs. The likelihood is that a number of Championship clubs will have to abandon their professional status to accommodate the cuts.
This could mean that a number of players will be forced to leave the game as they can no longer afford to play. Semi-Professionalism is not an option for all and the nature of this decision will undoubtedly have a very real effect on peoples’ lives.
However…The Championship Will Continue
Whilst there is a place to be sad for the loss of professionalism across the Championship as a result of RFU funding cuts, this is not the end of rugby below the Premiership.
David Challis spoke to Exeter Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter about the effects of the RFU Championship funding cut. He was quick to point out the sorrow he felt for those effected and sympathised referring to Exeter’s time in the Championship. He said;
“They’ll still continue with good local support. Whether they end up more semi-professional than professional. Those will still be great clubs for players to play and have the potential to be spotted. I don’t see that pathway changing.”
Many clubs look to the Championship as a development and scouting pool Baxter argues this has no reason to change. Most Premiership sides also use National One and Two for similar purposes, which are semi-professional leagues. Therefore, the systems will likely remain unaffected.
“There may be less professional clubs but that doesn’t mean there will be less good clubs”
Cuts Irrelevant to Ring-Fencing
The other argument that has been thrown at the RFU is that the cuts to Championship sides are ring-fencing all but in name. This, however, is a stretch at best.
Baxter was quick to note that “A £200,000 spending cut doesn’t create Sandy Park. To actually get into the Premiership and have those criteria, this funding cut is almost irrelevant. What you have to invest is go big it’s almost irrelevant.”
Many Championship clubs have been very open that they have no ambitions to get promoted. It takes an enormous amount of funding to rise up from the Championship to be a serious Premiership side and £135,000 cut will not come close to making that difference.
The Issue of Sustainable Rugby
England has more professional outfits than any other home nations and only France has more in Europe. The majority of these make massive losses each year and are bankrolled by wealthy individuals. This does not strike as a sustainable model, neither does propping up a professional Championship when the majority of the sides have no ambition or means to gain promotion.
These funding cuts do not stop promotion or relegation. If a side can produce the funds to operate in the Premiership, then they have no obstacles to going up. These RFU cuts will cause short-term pain for Championship clubs but they may have the effect of helping to future proof the system.
I have the utmost sympathy for all those affected by the decision but the hyperbole associated with the wider effects on English rugby is not helpful. Less professional rugby is not inherently a bad thing for English rugby especially when it is clearly not self-sustaining. Moves towards sustainable rugby should be welcomed and although this may not be the motivations behind the cut it should have that effect.
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