Championship funding cuts: RFU chief confirms phased reduction for second-tier clubs

Bill Sweeney
Bill Sweeney was named RFU chief executive a year ago, having previously held the same role at the British Olympic Association

Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney says they will soften the blow of reduced funding for the 12 Championship clubs by phasing in the cuts over the next two seasons.

Following a meeting with clubs on Thursday, the RFU has altered its plan.

"Funding over the next two seasons will have a greater proportion going to clubs for 2020-21," said Sweeney.

"This would result in a reduction of £135,000 rather than the £220,000 per club in the original proposal."

Sweeney added: "We listened to feedback from the clubs and wanted to find a funding solution that would lessen the impact for the 2020-21 season."

The Championship clubs - which will include current Premiership champions Saracens next season following their relegation for salary cap breaches - say they are under threat after plans to slash funding at English rugby's second-tier level were first announced on 12 February.

Currently the RFU pays the clubs about £534,000 per year but that will ultimately drop back to the 2015 level of £288,000 per club from the 2022-23 season onwards.

"We haven't just cut this to save £3m," Sweeney told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday. "We've cut it because we are not clear of the benefit we're getting from that spending. We said 'let's sit down and work together as a group and figure out what is the role of the Championship'.

Sweeney added in a statement on Friday: "We haven't taken this issue lightly. We understand the repercussions, and what a reduction in funding means to the clubs and the players and all involved.

'We are here to help the clubs' - Sweeney

"We have told the clubs that we are here to help them through the transition in any way we can.

"In addition to funding discussions we want to work together as a group to define the role of the Championship.

"We need to have clear joint goals for the league and be sure of the benefit we're getting from our investment in it.

"We are committed to exploring commercial opportunities to make the league more self-sustaining."

The 12-team Championship was set up as a professional second tier in 2009, replacing the 16-team National One, and then enjoying increased funding after England hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

Since the Championship's inception it has been dominated on many occasions by the side relegated from the Premiership in the previous season.

Only Exeter and London Welsh have ever won promotion having not previously been a Premiership shareholder. And this year's Championship is currently led by 1998 Premiership champions Newcastle, who have won all 13 games so far and are well on course to reclaim top-flight status in May.

But, as well as emerging clubs like Ealing Trailfinders, Jersey Reds and Ampthill, it also contains some of the traditional great names of English club rugby, most notably Coventry, London Scottish and Bedford.

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