Rugby Football Union chairman Bill Beaumont has confirmed that Premiership Rugby may have breached their contract with the RFU by striking a television deal with BT.
Premiership Rugby agreed a deal for domestic and European rights which will hit £152million if they can force through plans for a new-look Heineken Cup. Under International Rugby Board (IRB) regulations, no body has the jurisdiction to sell broadcasting rights without the express permission of their union.
The RFU did not grant their consent but Premiership Rugby claim they had the authority to act independently, under the terms of an agreement struck in October 2007.
Despite being surprised that Premiership Rugby acted unilaterally, the RFU are anxious to keep lawyers out of the situation. Beaumont and RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie want to work with the clubs to find a solution that secures the future of the Heineken Cup.
Beaumont said: "I am not a lawyer. I am advised that there could well have been a breach in the contract, but at the moment let's keep the door open, let's not take sides.
"Let's keep talking and we have still got a fair bit to go. We had been aware of the clubs' concerns and certainly Europe (ERC) had been, regarding the structure of the competition. I was certainly not aware of the announcement of the deal that the clubs brokered on Tuesday, or the detail."
The RFU will meet with the Premiership clubs next Wednesday and Beaumont, who is no stranger to discussions of this type, is hopeful of a peaceful outcome. "It will be interesting to chat to them," he said. "We have got to try and get on and reach an amicable settlement which suits all parties."
At present, the future of the Heineken Cup remains in doubt.
English and French clubs served notice on the existing Heineken Cup participation agreement on June 1 with the aim of overhauling the competition from 2016. The Rabodirect PRO12 teams currently pocket 52% of the income from European tournaments, with Premiership Rugby and their French counterparts receiving 24%.
The English and French clubs want the split to be 33% each and Premiership Rugby's plan, backed by BT, would also leave the Rabodirect clubs better off. But the Premiership and French Top 14 also want to change the qualification system, which currently favours the PRO12 clubs, and that is the key sticking point to negotiations.
- Premiership Rugby
- International Rugby Board
- Heineken Cup