The prospective buyers of London Irish have been given a deadline of 30 May to complete their purchase of the club after the Rugby Football Union (RFU) hit out at the “uncertainty and speculation” caused by a protracted sale process.
The mooted takeover of the club is yet to go through after several months of rumours.
Squad members were believed to have been on the brink of submitting breach-of-contract letters ahead of London Irish’s final Gallagher Premiership game against Exeter Chiefs before Mick Crossan, the club’s current owner, intervened to ensure players and staff were paid.
But nearly two weeks on, little further progress appears to have been made on concluding a deal with an American consortium reported by The Times this weekend to include former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and NBA star Allen Iverson.
And the club, who narrowly missed out on a play-off place this season, have now been given until the end of the month to complete the takeover or could face suspension from next season’s Premiership in a bid to avoid mid-campaign insolvency.
“The proposed takeover of London Irish by an American consortium has led to a significant amount of uncertainty and speculation about the future of the club, which is having an impact on players, staff, and fans of the club,” a statement from the RFU said.
“As a result, the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the RPA is seeking to take action to obtain greater clarity on the future of London Irish. It is imperative that the club will be in a position to take its place in the Gallagher Premiership in season 2023/24, and to complete that season.
“The RFU has therefore set a deadline of 30 May by which either: 1) a takeover of the club has been completed and approved by the RFU, with the buyers undertaking to provide all required working capital to meet the club’s obligations as they fall due for at least season 2023/24; or 2) the club evidences that it will continue to be funded to operate throughout the 2023/24 season.
“If the club fails to meet these conditions it will be suspended from participating in the Premiership (and other competitions) in season 2023/24 to avoid a scenario where the club enters insolvency mid-season, with the corresponding and substantial impact that has on players, staff, and fans, as well as on the remainder of the league. This deadline was set to give enough time for the buyers to provide the information needed and for the transaction to complete.”
A dark season has already seen both Worcester and Wasps enter administration, evidencing long-held fears over the financial sustainability of the English club game as the top flight dropped from 13 teams to 11, with Championship winners Jersey not eligible for promotion.
The chief executive of Gloucester, Lance Bradley, has now confirmed that a ten team Premiership appears to be the direction of travel, suggesting that a slightly condensed schedule could better appeal to broadcasters.
“It is the plan to go to a 10-team Premiership and there are lots of benefits to that,” Bradley told BBC Radio Gloucestershire.
“It would mean you can play all of your league games outside of international windows so you have always got your best players playing in the league which is obviously a benefit to the team, to fans because you know who you are going to be watching and is also a big benefit to the broadcaster. Broadcasters are much more interested in a 10-team Premiership.”
Saracens face Sale in the Premiership final on Saturday 27 May after the pair beat Northampton and Leicester respectively in the semi-finals.