Ring-fencing, why give the IPA Championship no fight?

Ring-fencing for many seasons has been a much-debated topic within the Gallagher Premiership. Some argue that a tighter more invested league will benefit English rugby. Whilst some, like myself, believe that ring-fencing will only deteriorate the game and take away the competitiveness that is found within the sport. 

Before it was found that domestic and European champions, Saracens broke the salary cap for four consecutive seasons, there were cries that ring-fencing the Premiership would prevent clubs from over reaching beyond their means. 

However, now that the reigning champions have been automatically relegated at the end of this domestic season, the calls for ring-fencing have gone quiet. 

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Following Premiership Rugby selling a minority stake to equity firm CVC Capital Partners in late 2018, there were suggestions that the £200m jackpot would be spread across shareholders in 13 teams to create a new era for the elite English clubs. 

However, with the RFU announcing in February that they will be slashing the second-tier funding following the targets that were given to the league not being met.

This means clubs will see funding income fall from £534,000 to £288,00 per club, mimicking the funding figures from the 2015 season.

Many players start their rugby career in the Championship and blossom into the international or Premiership player that they are through the core values and skills they learn in the second devision.

The hashtag, #iplayedchampionshiprugby was started in response to the funding cuts to show the importance of the second-tier division. The success of the hashtag has been seen across social media, with many players calling for the RFU to change their decision.

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Some players return to the Championship to re-find the game and fall back in love with the reason they started playing rugby. This is something that Bristol Bears and former Wasps Hooker, Tom Lindsay spoke to me about.

“In the Championship I think player culture is the drive, that’s why you’re seeing so many players coming out of the woodwork and going Championship the best thing I ever did.

“Personally for me Championship gave me a year of playing rugby week in week out and fell in love with rugby again.”

Tom Lindsay, Bristol Bears

Many Championship clubs dream of entering into the Premiership and closing the door on their aspirations could cause upset across the Championship. Clubs such as the Cornish Pirates are fully committed to making the Premiership a near future goal. The Pirates are hoping to have a new ground by 2020 to ensure that when they do make their Premiership dream a reality they can meet the requirements with a 10,000-seater stadium. 

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Many former players and coaches have been vocal on where they stand in the ring-fencing debate. Former British and Irish Lion, Matt Dawson spoke on his BBC Radio 5 Live podcast about being in favour of the ring-fencing. He said: 

“For the welfare of players, it would extend their careers. I think they will play fewer games. Overall, we will have a better national side.

“At the moment, players are not played because of the risk of relegation” 

Matt Dawson, Former British and Irish Lion

Whilst current players, such as Saracens back-row Will Fraser spoke to BBC sport about his rejection for ring-fencing. He said: 

“If we want to keep generating young English players, we need to have the Championship as a league as a method and progression pathway for young players to use to come through to the Premiership.” 

Will Fraser, Saracens

I think that the stance on ring-fencing is very clear. If ring-fencing is in place then future Championship clubs will never be able to thrive in top flight English rugby, nor will they have the success of clubs such as Exeter and Bristol and bring excitement to their fans with their players, coaches and ability to put on an experience day, rather than just a rugby game. 

Why give the Championship no fight? They are the clubs bringing up the next generation that want a shot at the big stage. Who are we to stop clubs reaching their full potential?

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