London Irish’s problems took a turn for the worse on Friday when HM Revenue and Customs filed winding-up petitions over an unpaid tax bill.
Proceedings were launched on Friday when petitions against London Irish Holdings Limited and London Irish Rugby Football Ground Limited were filed at the High Court.
The development came on the day that the Government appointed independent advisers to support rugby union chiefs as they attempt to preserve the future of the professional game after the failures of Worcester and Wasps last season.
Irish face suspension from the Gallagher Premiership unless a takeover has been completed or they can demonstrate they have the funding needed to operate for the entirety of the 2023-24 season by 4pm on June 6.
HMRC declined to comment on the matter but a spokesperson told the PA news agency: “We take a supportive approach to dealing with customers who have tax debts and only file winding-up petitions once we’ve exhausted all other options, in order to protect taxpayers’ money.”
The club was given a week-long extension to prove they have a future by the Rugby Football Union on Wednesday, and were ordered to ensure the May payroll for all staff and players had been paid in full after it was confirmed that only 50 per cent had been received.
An American consortium is in discussions to take over the Exiles, who have debts in the region of £30million, but has yet to provide proof of funds to the RFU, as well as other documentation needed for the purchase to be approved.
The club’s plight highlights the difficulties currently being faced by clubs in the post-Covid era which have prompted Government intervention.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has appointed former Rugby Football League CEO Ralph Rimmer and UK Sport’s Chris Pilling to help the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby Limited in their efforts to reshape the game’s “future strategic financial and sporting direction”.
A DCMS statement read: “The issues at Worcester, Wasps and London Irish have laid bare the challenges facing the sport of rugby union.
“The inability of rugby clubs to raise capital investment and the financial challenges at various levels within the game have contributed to the need for urgent work to help secure rugby union’s immediate future and advise on its future direction.”
The Government stepped in to support rugby at elite and grassroots levels during the Covid-19 pandemic, but many clubs are still dealing with the impact.
Sports Minister Stuart Andrew added: “This is a challenging time for rugby union and Ralph and Chris have agreed to utilise their experience to help the game develop a clear path for the future.
“We have seen several high profile clubs and their fans left devastated in recent times and this additional independent advice will be of huge benefit to the RFU and PRL as they look to implement a new strategic direction for rugby.”
RFU CEO Bill Sweeney welcomed further Government backing and called upon those involved in the game to set aside “self-interest” in the quest for a sustainable future.
He said: “The restructuring of the Professional Game Agreement into a strategic partnership provides a great opportunity for all stakeholders to set aside self-interest and collaborate to reset and secure the future long-term sustainable growth of the professional game including developing the strongest possible second tier.”