Worcester Warriors have been cleared to play against Newcastle Falcons this weekend, but it looks like they will be banned from the Premiership on Monday as grim financial realities continue to overwhelm English club rugby. Multiple sources suggest that Worcester will struggle to meet a series of conditions set by the Rugby Football Union and that the Newcastle game could be their last Premiership hurray.
Now that Wasps have also announced their intention to appoint administrators, the RFU and Premiership Rugby are both well aware of the reputational damage being done to the professional club game. No final decision has been made yet, but it is likely that Worcester’s results will be voided this season if they were to drop out of the league.
The RFU has told Worcester it must have new insurance coverage, enough money to cover this month’s payroll plus outstanding wages and a “credible plan to move the club forward”.
If Worcester’s owners Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham fail to demonstrate progress by 5pm Monday, the club risks being permanently removed from all competitions in which they participate, both men and women.
The owners’ insistence last weekend that the club’s sale to new investors was imminent has come to nothing and, with debts of at least £25million, the club will face a liquidation request from HMRC in early October. Worcester MP Robin Walker called on the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in Parliament to put the Warriors under administration, describing it as “the best way to save the club”. However, if that happens during a season, the penalty of automatic relegation can only be evaded if it can be argued that the Covid pandemic, rather than poor stewardship, was the primary cause.
The RFU’s Club Financial Viability Group, chaired by Paula Carter, stands ready to convene an urgent meeting in case a party enters the administration.
“It is clear that the current state of affairs cannot continue,” the RFU writes in a letter sent to the owners mid-week.
Bristol’s owner Stephen Lansdown has also told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that investing in rugby can feel like throwing money into a black hole. “Rugby is, in a way, its own worst enemy,” Lansdown said. “It’s a great game and attracts great spectators and fans, but there’s a matter of revenue that goes into the company. For people to invest in it, it is a passion. It’s not something you can refer to and say you can invest in it and get your money back.
“So you have to go in with your eyes open that it’s going to be a bit of a black hole for a while and that’s the difficulty. We had the financing through the pandemic, but it’s in the form of loans and that’s one of the problems that Worcester is definitely dealing with.
“When you borrow money, you must have the ability to pay it back or the ability to know it will be converted into equity.”