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RFU rejects Worcester plan for Championship return, but approves Wasps application

Worcester were relegated from the Premiership on 6 October, three weeks before Wasps
Worcester were relegated from the Premiership on 6 October, three weeks before Wasps

Worcester’s application to return to professional rugby next season has been rejected by the Rugby Football Union, though Wasps can return in 2023-24.

Wasps’ approval is provided they adhere to a number of conditions to be allowed to play in the Championship.

The RFU board had been assessing the applications from bidders aiming to take over the two stricken clubs.

Both clubs were first suspended, then removed from the Premiership in October after going into administration.

Worcester, whose debts totalled more than £30m when they went under, have been the subject of a bid from former Warriors chief executive Jim O’Toole and his Atlas consortium.

Atlas accused the governing body of trying to impose “onerous operational conditions” on the group as they negotiate a takeover with administrators Begbies Traynor.

The RFU said they had “put forward a number of conditions” for the prospective buyers to meet, including commitments not to dispose of land around Sixways and the “swift” payment of rugby creditors.

“The bidders, selected by the administrators of the insolvent WRFC Trading Limited, have informed us that they are not prepared to meet these conditions, and therefore the RFU board was unable to approve their application,” a statement continued.

“The RFU will now work with the administrator to enable alternative bids that would secure professional rugby at Sixways and to work together in a timetable to enable that to happen.”

Their decision has triggered the renewal of the alternative main bid announced on 27 October from a consortium led by former Warriors director of rugby Steve Diamond and a previously unnamed ally, the old club’s main sponsor, local Hartlebury-based businessman Adam Hewitt.

“I can confirm that Adam Hewitt and I are fully committed to bringing Worcester Warriors back to the Premiership, Diamond posted on Twitter on Thursday.external-link

“We have the plan and the funding. Give us the opportunity. We will give you the rugby. Bring it on.”

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said that, although the news was not what Worcester fans and former staff wanted to hear, the best interests of the club were their “key priority”.

Sweeney said: “We are prepared to extend the deadlines to explore if an alternative bidder can be found who has the continuation of rugby in Worcester central to its business plan.”

However, Atlas said in a statement on Thursday that if the RFU did not change its stance, they would look to conclude a deal “without the approval of the RFU and without returning elite level rugby to Worcester”.

Analysis – Have Warriors & Wasps bids been treated differently?

James Pearson, Political Reporter BBC Hereford & Worcester

The decision by the RFU will be a big blow to Warriors’ fans, who had hopes of seeing Championship rugby at Sixways next season.

Many will be angry with the RFU and argue that the governing body has treated the bids for Warriors and Wasps differently, applying tougher tests to the consortium looking to buy Worcester.

That feeling will have been strengthened by a statement from the Atlas consortium on Thursday, which accused the RFU of trying to exert too much commercial control on Warriors’ future.

But it’s worth remembering the facts on the ground are different at the two clubs.

In the case of Worcester, the Sixways stadium and the surrounding land are also at stake.

In its statement the RFU says the Atlas consortium was not prepared to commit “not to dispose of the land around the stadium, thereby securing it for the club and the local rugby community”.

In its statement on Thursday, Atlas said that, even without RFU approval, it would still look to conclude a deal with the administrator to buy Warriors. We’ll now find out if that was a negotiating tactic, or if they will try to seal the deal without any promise of professional men’s rugby at Sixways.

Wasps move to next stage

Wasps had debts totalling £95m when they went into administration, but an offer from a consortium including members of the club’s legends group was accepted at the end of October.

Their bid does not include the women’s team, which is a separate club and will continue to play as part of the amateur side Wasps FC.

The RFU say they will continue to work with the bidders over the coming weeks to meet a number of “specific conditions” they had laid down.

The statement continued: “These include a range of financial commitments to ensure that the club remains funded, the lodging of a significant bond, the regular provision of financial and other information, swift payment of rugby creditors, and corporate governance requirements including relating to the club’s board of directors and risk management process.”

The decisions were taken following a due diligence process conducted by the RFU’s financial viability group.

It includes members of the RFU board, council and executive staff, representatives from Premier Rugby, the Championship and National League Rugby, plus specialist insolvency experts.

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