Where to from here as Premiership's demise begins
NEWS: The model for professional rugby in the UK seems to be inherently broken with London Irish being the latest victim of the financial crisis gripping the Premiership.
This follows close on the heels of the collapse of Wasps and Worcester in 2022 and begs the question: What will become of all the players at London Irish, including South African-born Benhard Janse van Rensburg?
In February Springbok loose forward Nizaam Carr spoke out about the nightmare that plunged him into a “dark space” when he lost his job as Wasps went under administration late last year.
South Africans Francois Venter and Duhan van der Merwe went through the same turmoil when their contracts were terminated due to the financial woes at Worcester.
When Wasps’ management was taken over for failing to repay a debt of £35m (R750m) to their bondholders, Carr and fellow South Africans Vincent Koch, Burger Odendaal and Francois Hougaard lost their contracts at the club.
South African players have always been keen on playing abroad and making money while doing so. However, this is probably why the lure to play in Japan instead has become so appealing.
In December the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union (RFT), Bill Sweeney, vowed to “sort the game out” amid a financial crisis that has engulfed the sport in England.
Sweeney acknowledged that the current model is “broken” and clubs have been “living beyond their means” for too long. Premiership clubs were “losing £4m to £5m a year” prior to the pandemic and Covid “exacerbated that” situation. He also said that rugby had been relying on wealthy benefactors for too long.
According to reports in December, the Premiership clubs were all heading for disaster with a collective debt of £300 million in net debt over the past six years.
During this time, Mick Crossan, owner of London Irish, openly said he would give the club away for free.
“If anyone’s looking to buy a rugby club with its own training ground and P shares then they don’t even have to buy it,” he told Sportsmail. “I’ll give it to them as long as they fund it.
“When I got involved, my motive was to keep London Irish as a club. Otherwise they could have ended up becoming Swindon Irish. They’re back in the heartland of London now, so I’ve done what I set out to do and hopefully secured the future of the club.
“If someone wants to take the mantle over then they’re more than welcome. There’s a good deal to be done. We want someone genuine with good governance. It’s not about money. It’s about continuity.
— Rhys Knott (@wrhys_writes) June 6, 2023
The announcement of London Irish’ suspension was met with shock on Twitter.
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Three short years ago #LondonIrish players and staff prepared and delivered 800 meals a day to NHS hospitals and palliative care homes at height of pandemic. Tonight they are out of work, their own futures wracked with uncertainty. It is a crying shame https://t.co/bN1yDUKfY8
— Alex Spink (@alexspinkmirror) June 6, 2023
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 7, 2023
Thoughts with every player, member of staff and fan of @londonirish tonight. Such sad news to hear of the suspension from the leagues. Mismanagement and poor running of businesses across the league to blame
— Andy Goode (@AndyGoode10) June 6, 2023
A damning report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee last year claimed the financial situation of Premiership clubs is “clearly unsustainable”.
It further stated that the demise of Wasps and Worcester earlier this season was a “stain on the reputation” of the RFU and Premiership Rugby.
The conclusion of the committee was that poor oversight from rugby union’s governing bodies contributed to Wasps and Worcester collapsing, and criticised “a lack of safeguards in place at the highest levels of the game” to help prevent such issues.
“At Wasps, a disastrous and ill-thought-through relocation to Coventry, and the debt incurred to fund this, crippled the club financially,” the report read.
“At Worcester Warriors, unscrupulous owners mismanaged club finances while attempting to strip the club of its assets. One of the most striking facets of the problems at Worcester Warriors was the lack of due diligence undertaken regarding its owners, particularly Colin Goldring.”
In May Crossan failed to pay half of the staff payroll at London Irish and his further failure to pay salaries last week, persuaded the RFU to extend the deadline by six days in the hope that staff and players would get the money owed to them.
Following the collapse of Wasps and Worcester, the demise of the Exiles, who finished the Premiership in fifth place, would conclude the darkest season in the history of English club rugby.
Recent reports speculated that the Bristol Bears are £51.2 million in debt, Saracens £40.8 million, Newcastle Falcons £39 million, Bath £37.3 million, Harlequins £33.7 million, Leicester Tigers £31 million, Sale Sharks £30.9 million, Gloucester £27 million, Northampton Saints £20.5 million and Exeter £13 million.
Rugby365 have reached out to Janse van Rensburg for his comment but have not been successful in reaching him.