EPCR would like to clarify a number of points regarding its recent decision that Heidelberger RK are ineligible to compete in the 2018/19 Challenge Cup.
EPCR’s Participation Agreements for the 2017/18 season – which were signed by all clubs competing in the Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and Continental Shield, including Heidelberger RK – contain safeguards against potential threats to the sporting integrity of its tournaments.
These safeguards are entirely consistent with World Rugby Regulations 14.1 and 14.5 which respectively state that “no individual, body corporate … or any other entity (‘Entity’) may directly or indirectly own or control more than one Club except with the prior written consent of the Union concerned, or where Clubs from different Unions are involved, the written consent of the Unions concerned and World Rugby” and that “this Regulation 14 shall be interpreted broadly to give effect to the underlying intention that no Entity … shall control, or be in a position to control, either directly or indirectly, more than one Club“.
The same safeguards were taken into consideration in February 2017 when it was decided that Gloucester Rugby and Montpellier could not compete in the same EPCR tournament if they came under common ownership or control.
When Dr Hans-Peter Wild became the Chairman and principal owner of Stade Français Paris in May 2017, the participation of Heidelberger RK in the 2017/18 Continental Shield had not been confirmed but the above safeguards were already in place and openly communicated to all clubs participating in European club tournaments.
In advance of that confirmation, the potential for a future risk to the integrity of its tournaments was raised by EPCR during face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations with Dr Wild’s representatives.
The issue was also discussed with Dr Wild on 12 August 2017 in Nyon, Switzerland, and since then, EPCR has sought further meetings with Dr Wild and has been in formal contact with his representatives.
Once Heidelberger RK qualified for the final of last season’s Continental Shield, EPCR undertook a thorough consultation of its stakeholders regarding the German club’s eligibility for the 2018/19 Challenge Cup as is its duty and responsibility as organiser of the tournament.
The unanimous view was that the participation of two clubs – namely Stade Français Paris and Heidelberger RK – in the same tournament where the same person or entity was in a position to control, or to exert influence, over the sporting performance and management of both clubs, would contravene EPCR’s Tournament Rules. EPCR has communicated to Dr Wild that the two clubs continue to be able to participate in different European club rugby tournaments in the same season.
Last season, EPCR’s three tournaments took place across 13 countries from Portugal in the west of Europe to Russia in the east before a landmark Finals weekend was staged in Bilbao, Spain. While the continued expansion of the footprint of European club rugby is a key objective, EPCR is also required in the best interests of its shareholders to protect the integrity of its tournaments.