England rugby chief Bill Sweeney has insisted the Premiership and Championship should look across the Channel to France for inspiration as the domestic game faces a crisis unlike anything it has seen in the professional era.
Sweeney, currently in New Zealand for the women’s Rugby World Cup, said yesterday that the French financial governance systems could provide inspiration for the English game.
“Part of the governance reform and regulatory control review will be about greater financial transparency, and we haven’t had that, and PRL [Premiership Rugby Ltd] have not had that, in the time leading up to the problems that we’re facing here,” said Sweeney, chief executive of the Rugby Football Union (RFU).
“We do talk to the French point quite a bit and the process they have over there is called a DNCG [National Direction for Management Control]. That’s an independent audit body independent from FFR [governing body], but they define themselves as there to protect the interest and grow the French game across, Top14 and also [second division] ProD2.
“They’ve got some interesting criteria that apply there that clubs have to satisfy before they get a licence to compete before the start of a season.
“There are assumptions around ticketing and hospitality and if they look out of whack compared to previous years, they’re scaled back. They look at their projected finish in the league, which carries a certain bonus payment with it.
“They have to keep 15 per cent of their cost projections in cash deposits. If an owner is guaranteeing to bankroll any financial shortcomings, it’s not satisfactory just to have a letter from the owner, they have a bank guarantee from the bank concerned.”
The French system, then, seems to be the shining light of governance in a sport which often looks devoid of leadership.
However, current agreements in England end in June 2024 so it is unlikely that any major structural changes would take place until the 2024-2025 season.
Some of the options on the table include central contracts – though Sweeney described this as a “nuclear” phrase – and a re-structured, two-tiered league.
“It’s too early to do that [pick a date for change] and I can’t give you a precise time,” Sweeney added.
“We’ve been in conversation now for about six months on the PGA [Professional Game Agreement]. We started that discussion early even though the agreement doesn’t expire until the end of June 2024.
“What’s happening now has accelerated this – I think that’s a good thing. But we’re having daily meetings and discussions around that.”
English rugby is facing a crisis at the moment and the sport’s bigwigs are seemingly unable to make quick changes that could stop other sides from going under this season – if fears over the financial position of other clubs are realised.
But what everyone, on the face of it, can agree on is that transparency is the future – which begs the question as to why it hasn’t always been a priority.