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London Irish suspended from the Premiership for failing to pay staff

Written by 
Published in Rugby
Tuesday, 06 June 2023 11:16

London Irish have been suspended from the Premiership after missing a deadline to pay players and staff.

The club, which had been given until Tuesday to complete a takeover or risk being suspended, will not be allowed to play in any league next season.

A US consortium had been trying to buy the club, which finished fifth in the Premiership during 2022-23.

An RFU statement said the takeover had not materialised and the move would provide certainty for other clubs.

Despite plans announced in 2021 to expand to 14 teams, English rugby now faces the prospect of a 10-team Premiership next season following the demise of Worcester Warriors and Wasps.

A 10-team top flight with a reduced salary cap was discussed by clubs midway through last season, according to Leicester Tigers chief executive Andrea Pinchen.

Chief executive Bill Sweeney said: "This is desperately sad news for everyone who is part of the London Irish community as well as all the players, fans, staff and volunteers for whom this club means so much.

"Working alongside Premiership Rugby, the RPA and London Irish over recent months, our collective first priority has been to do the utmost to secure the long-term viability of the club and the protection of its players and staff.

"To achieve this, it was imperative that transparent evidence of funding be presented to us. This would have been either by the proposed buyers undertaking to provide all required working capital to meet the club's obligations for at least the 2023-24 season; or the club providing evidence that it would continue to fund its operations throughout the 2023-24 season.

"Despite requesting this evidence over the last six months and receiving assurances on multiple occasions that we would receive proof of ownership and funds; it has not materialised."

How did Irish get here?

While Irish enjoyed a solid season on the pitch, finishing fifth in the Premiership and reaching the final of the Premiership Rugby Cup for the second successive season, there have been rumblings of issues off the field for some time, with owner Mick Crossan in protracted talks to sell the club to a US-based consortium.

Crossan had to step in to pay overdue wages in April, just minutes before players were preparing to submit breach-of-contract notices.

The club were then given a deadline of 30 May to complete the takeover or risk being suspended from the Premiership next season, before the Rugby Football Union pushed that cut-off point back to 16:00 BST on Tuesday.

Irish, who are understood to have debts of around £30m, were told that to avoid suspension from English rugby's top flight, they needed to either complete a takeover or demonstrate that they have the funding to operate for the entire 2023-24 season.

They were also told they had to ensure all staff and players were paid in full for May, after just 50% of the money had been forthcoming.

The club were then last week served a winding-up petition by HM Revenue & Customs over an unpaid tax bill.

Petitions were filed at the High Court on Friday against London Irish Holdings Limited and London Irish Rugby Football Ground Limited.

Premiership loses Wasps and Worcester in 2022

The winding-up petition came on the day the UK government appointed independent advisers to support the sport in the wake of the demise of Worcester and Wasps this season.

Both clubs went into administration within the space of 21 days in the autumn and ended up being expelled from the Premiership.

Wasps' demise as a leading domestic club was confirmed last month when the RFU withdrew a conditional offer of a place in the Championship for next season.

The two-time European and six-times English champions will instead play "at the bottom of the playing pyramid" after being demoted to the 10th tier of English rugby.

Wasps went into administration in October, the month after Worcester suffered the same fate.

They were taken over in December but lost their proposed place in the second tier after the new owners could not provide evidence they were able to pay creditors and other financial commitments.

Meanwhile, months after winning the Premiership Rugby Cup, their first major trophy, Worcester were suspended by the RFU after entering administration in September, while players and staff had their contracts terminated after part of the club was wound-up over an unpaid £6m tax bill.

Worcester were formally taken over by the Atlas Group in May after initially agreeing a deal with administrators Begbies Traynor in February.

However, when, and in which division, the club will return to playing is currently unknown.

After being named as preferred bidders following the collapse of the club, Atlas, led by ex-Warriors chief executive Jim O'Toole, withdrew from negotiations with the RFU over playing in next season's Championship and backtracked on deeply unpopular plans to re-brand as Sixways Rugby.

Although proposals remain to merge with the first team of local tier-five side Stourbridge, nothing official has been announced, with Atlas warned by the RFU any move to "buy their way" back higher up the league, rather than start at the bottom in tier 10, would not be allowed.

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