English club rugby has been dealt two tough blows in recent weeks with financial uncertainty looming over both Worcester Warriors and Wasps. Wasps are facing the prospect of relegation after the club is staring down the barrel of administration due to unpaid taxes and the Warriors are running on thin ice with RFU as they try to put together a ‘credible’ plan to take the club forward.
A statement from Wasps Holdings Limited said: “Due to the impending threat of action from HMRC, Wasps Holdings Limited, the ultimate holding company of the group including Wasps Rugby Football Club and Arena Coventry Limited, have taken the difficult decision to file a notice of intention to appoint administrators in order to protect its interests. This measure does not mean the business is in administration but provides a crucial period of grace to continue negotiations with a number of interested parties to secure the long-term future of the group.”
Unfortunately for Wasps, RFU regulations states ‘where a Club suffers an Insolvency Event during the season or after the end of the Season but before the playing schedules have been set for the following Season, that Club’s most senior first XV team, as determined by the RFU, shall in respect of the following Season be relegated to the League below that in which it participated at the time the Insolvency Event occurred and there shall be no right of appeal for any such Club.’
A lifeline for Wasps, however, is that there is a clause in the RFU regulations that speaks of the RFU potentially waiving sanctions if an insolvency event is not deemed to be the fault of the club. Here the club can claim the COVID-19 pandemic caused the situation they now find themselves.
Worcester Warriors, although not in as a bad a situation, still find themselves in a dark place. They have been given an ultimatum and deadline by the RFU to prove they have the necessary funds and long-term plan to resolve the club’s current crisis. The current Worcester Warriors owners, Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring, have spoken recently that the sale of the club is close on the horizon, but it doesn’t change the fact that the club remains in debt of around £25m and is still facing a winding-up petition from HMRC which was announced back in October.
The situation for both clubs paints a dire picture for the sustainability and longevity of domestic club rugby in England. Rugby clubs rely so heavily on fan financial support and its clear that the impact of the pandemic might be unrepairable for some – a massive shame for club rugby. The buzz and excitement felt by fans for the rugby on the pitch in recent years just isn’t mirrored when looking at the future of clubs off the pitch. Both clubs are important cogs in the machine for domestic club rugby. Losing either of them from the top flight would be a blow, but losing both so close together would be gut-wrenching.
It’s obvious that clubs need help. But whose responsibility is it to step in? The club owners, Premiership Rugby or CVC?