Worcester Warriors have been cleared to play Newcastle Falcons this weekend but look set to be suspended from the Premiership on Monday as stark financial realities continue to engulf English club rugby. Multiple sources suggest Worcester will struggle to meet a series of conditions set by the Rugby Football Union and the Newcastle fixture could be their last Premiership hurrah.
With Wasps also having given notice of their intention to appoint administrators, the RFU and Premiership Rugby are both acutely conscious of the reputational damage being done to the professional club game. No final decision has yet been made but it is likely Worcester’s results this season would be declared null and void in the event of them dropping out of the league.
The RFU has told Worcester it needs to have fresh insurance cover in place, sufficient funds to cover this month’s payroll plus outstanding wages and a “credible plan to take the club forward”.
If Worcester’s owners, Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham, cannot show that progress has been made by 5pm on Monday, the club risk being permanently removed from all the competitions in which they compete, both male and female.
The owners’ insistence last weekend that the sale of the club to new investors was imminent have come to nothing and, with debts of at least £25m, the club faces a winding-up petition from HMRC in early October. The Worcester MP Robin Walker called in parliament for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to put the Warriors into administration, describing it as “the best way to save the club”. If that happens during a season, however, the penalty of automatic relegation can only be dodged if it can be argued the Covid pandemic, rather than poor stewardship, was the primary cause.
The RFU’s Club Financial Viability Group, chaired by Paula Carter, is standing by to convene an urgent meeting in the event of any side entering administration.
“It is clear that the current state of affairs cannot continue,” wrote the RFU in a letter sent to the owners in midweek.
The Bristol owner, Stephen Lansdown, has also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that investing in rugby can feel like throwing money into a black hole. “Rugby in a way is its own worst enemy,” said Lansdown. “It’s a fabulous game and attracts great spectators and fans but there’s a question of the revenue going into the business. For people to invest in it, it’s a passion. It’s not one you can point to and say you can invest in it and make a return on your money.
“So you have to go in with your eyes open that it’s going to be a bit of a black hole for a time and that’s the difficulty. We had the funding through the pandemic but it’s in the form of loans and that’s one of the problems that certainly Worcester is faced with.
“When you borrow money you do have to have the ability to repay it or the ability to know that it will be converted into equity.”