The organisers of the Heineken Cup have expressed their surprise at Premiership Rugby's decision to negotiate their own TV rights deal, but they are still hopeful some kind of compromise can be struck.
Last month, Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL), who represent English top-flight clubs, announced that they had agreed a £152million deal with BT to show domestic and European matches from 2014. This infuriated the European Rugby Cup (ERC) - who run the Heineken Cup and had already announced a separate TV deal with Sky Sports.
The ERC insisted PRL do not have the authority to agree TV deals for competitions outside their borders and ERC chief executive Derek McGrath has hit out at PRL for thinking that all the clubs involved would accept their proposal. "There was a lot of surprise and there continues to be in terms of the decision to pre-judge an outcome," McGrath said.
"We have a centralised approach to marketing. That is what all the unions have approved and that's what is recognised under the International Rugby Board (IRB) regulations so to do things in a different way is not only pre-judging an outcome, it's also doing it outside the institutions that are set down and respected by everyone.
"While there have always been challenges, there always has been respect for each other's country and cultures, etc. This has changed the agenda."
PRL insist they were allowed to negotiate their own contract as part of a deal currently in place with the Rugby Football Union (RFU).
The RFU themselves are investigating PRL's claim, but McGrath thinks they do not have the RFU's permission to negotiate a separate deal.
"The board can only reject a deal that is not receiving the authority of (the country's respective) union under IRB regulations," he said. "We understand that no approval was sought so therefore the ERC, even if it wanted to, couldn't recognise any such dealing."
PRL's announcement has led to fears that the Heineken Cup's 17-year-old existence could come to an end. The English clubs, and their French counterparts, are currently unhappy at qualification criteria and scheduling of the tournament.
The English teams are unhappy that Celtic clubs can rest their players for domestic games as unlike in England, there is no relegation or promotion in the RaboDirect PRO 12 league.
- Heineken Cup
- Premiership Rugby
- European Rugby Cup
- International Rugby Board