Nottingham chairman Alistair Bow says hard-up Championship sides are being forced to put recruitment plans on hold amid doubts over future RFU funding.
With the Champion-ship’s current £5.2m-a-year deal with the RFU expiring this summer, along with Greene King’s £400,000 sponsorship, Bow claims clubs have received no indication from the governing body of a revised deal – or that funding will continue at all.
Bolstered by a £1m-plus annual contribution from Premiership Rugby, Championship clubs currently receive around £580,000 each in central funding. Were that to disappear, Bow fears it would sound a death knell for full-time professional rugby below the top-flight.
Bow told The Rugby Paper: “As of today, Nottingham have received nothing we can get stuck into and get a full understanding of what we’re dealing with next season.
“We’ve got a Championship meeting at the end of January but that’s late in the day because we’re planning next season’s budget now. It costs around £1.7m-a-year to run Nottingham and Championship funding accounts for 35-40 per cent of that.
“Nottingham’s current strategy is that we’re allowing our staff to recruit and retain some core players for next season. However, we’re not going to be able to go beyond that or complete the process until we know our funding for the next two to four years.
“I’m confident there will be a deal of some sort and I seriously hope we’re not going to see a decrease. But with what’s gone on with the RFU over the last couple of years and the savings they’ve been making, I fear there is a possibility they might cut it.
“If that happens it will be to the detriment of the Championship and everything we’re trying to achieve. I think our league is massively underinvested in because our contribu-tion to England, the Premiership and rugby as a whole is phenomenal.”
Bow points to the fact that over half of England’s 31-man World Cup squad, including star men like Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell and Jonny May, cut their teeth at Championship clubs before hitting the big time.
He added: “The benefit to the RFU is clear: we are the breeding ground for future England players, coaches, physios and support staff. That’s a core part of our strategy at Nottingham and we always have players supporting the Premiership’s A-League.
“Dual-registration is working and I don’t believe the Premiership or the Championship would be able to play the number of games we do if it wasn’t for that mutual co-operation and movement, which is something the RFU needs to wake-up and recognise.
“They’ve got to fund the Championship properly and whatever targets we need to achieve in terms of English players and coaches, we will deliver it. But until they do that the league will continue to plod along and if they cut it, we’ll just wither and die.”
With the threat of Premiership ring-fencing never far from the agenda, Bow believes any failure to agree a new funding deal now would jeopardise the chances of Championship sides like Nottingham following Exeter and Bristol into the Premiership – something he claims is eminently achievable in future given the right financial circumstances.
“You’ve seen the fantastic job Exeter have done and now we’re seeing Bristol do likewise,” Bow said. “Bristol could have disappeared but they proved what can happen if you have the will and finances to play at a higher level and the door is kept open.
“Nottingham is a huge sporting city that deserves a full-time, professional rugby team and there’s no reason why we couldn’t be another Bristol. We don’t have a Steve Lansdown (Bristol’s billionaire owner) but there is money here and there is a huge will within all our sports – football, cricket, ice hockey as well – to put Nottingham on the map.
“In the meantime, we need central funding and for promotion and relegation to remain, because if you take opportunities away, interest will begin to wane and professional rugby will eventually die a death. Sport has to be about winners and losers.”
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