Scrapping relegation from the Gallagher Premiership is ‘entirely the wrong solution’ according to Coventry Rugby chairman Jon Sharp.
The debate over ring-fencing the elite level of English Rugby intensified with the Daily Mail recently reporting that Premiership clubs are considering forming a breakaway league free from the RFU if changes are not made.
Newcastle Falcons, who finished third last season to qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup, currently prop up the division with the likes of Worcester Warriors, Northampton Saints and Bristol Bears all in a battle for survival just behind a powerhouse clutch of clubs including Wasps, Leicester Tigers and Bath.
With relegation to the Championship bringing with it a ‘catastrophic’ drop in revenue, the current ultra-competitive nature of the Gallagher Premiership has intensified calls to end the looming threat for its 12 participants.
“I think it’s wrong from the selfish point of view from Coventry Rugby,” said Sharp, who has been chairman at his hometown club since 2012.
“I also think it’s wrong as a lifelong rugby supporter.”
Greene King IPA Championship clubs have Premiership ambitions
He added: “It puts a brake on personal ambition and the club’s ambition. There’s at least five or six clubs in the Championship who have ambitions to go up into the Premiership. I think ambition is what it is all about.
“One of the PRL (Premiership Rugby Limited) arguments is the facilities at some of these clubs aren’t good enough. The infrastructure isn’t good enough, but if they had a bit more money, they would be!”
Coventry Rugby, after a nine-year spell in National League One, achieved promotion in 2018 and have made the one of the best starts for a newly-promoted club into the Championship at the season for many season.
Boasting the third-best average attendance in the division and a return of four wins and a draw from their games so far, Cov are fast establishing themselves as a force in tier two rugby, laying the foundations to progress in future seasons.
While acutely aware of the vast difference in the demands required to make the next step, Sharp stressed clubs like Coventry should be masters of their own destiny.
Entry to Gallagher Premiership should not be barred
“I don’t want to be barred from going to the Premiership because of some external edit,” he said. “I’d like to have the choice if we are doing well enough, both from a player and infrastructure point of view and a revenue point of view, to be able to say, ‘let’s make the decision lads’.
“Are we strong enough to go for it and win the Championship and get promoted? Or shall we stay where we are, financial and other reasons.
“There’s lots of clubs expanding facilities and putting money in, why should they be prohibited from getting promoted by some sort of external edit.
“Five or six clubs have publicly declared they’re ambitious to go up into the Premiership and are spending money.”
Cornish Pirates, Yorkshire Carnegie and Ealing Trailfinders investing with long-term aims
He added: “There’s a lot of clubs in the Championship are spending a lot of money on their infrastructure. “For example, Cornish Pirates are quite clearly ambitious to go into the Premiership and they are building a new stadium in Truro.
“At Yorkshire Carnegie, a new stand has been built there and new terrific facilities. They share their ground with Leeds Rhinos who are the English champions so the facilities they have are superb.
“Ealing Trailfinders are very ambitious and they are talking about a move to a new ground.
“Clubs like Coventry are spending money on site development, all with long-term aims.”
The financial gap between Greene King IPA Championship and Gallagher Premiership
Sharp, who next week joins up with the other 11 chairmen of Championship clubs for a meeting at Twickenham with acting RFU CEO Nigel Melville, believes the route to bridging the gap between the Championship and the Premiership starts by looking from the bottom upwards.
“There is too big a gap between the financial support they receive in the Premiership and what they would get in the Championship, and therefore relegation to the Championship is catastrophic,” said Sharp.
“The Premiership clubs last year lost £30million. I think they’re trying to solve this exactly the wrong way around. Yes there is a massive difference in the funding received from the RFU alone, let alone anything coming now from CVC (private investors who recently bought a stake of Premiership Rugby).
“We get from the RFU £620,000 by abiding by certain terms and conditions. Premiership clubs get up to £6million. I believe the gap between the two needs to be closed.
“But I think that should be closed by reducing the amount given to the PRL by probably 30 per cent and that 30 per cent be distributed amongst Championship level and perhaps the National Leagues as well.
“This money needs to dribble all the way down and improve rugby across the grades.”