The Cornish Pirates believe that the Rugby Football Union's decision to drastically reduce funding to RFU Championship clubs could have a 'devastating impact' on some clubs, even putting them out of business.

The RFU announced on Wednesday that it would slash its funding to clubs in the second-tier division – including the Pirates – by almost 50 per cent £288,000 per club, down from around £534,000.

The RFU cited unfulfilled targets as the reason for its reduction in funding.

In a statement, Bill Sweeney, RFU CEO, said: “This is a decision based on a principle of ensuring levels of investment are geared to a clear return on investment. There are many worthy requirements from both the professional and community game and we need to make sure that every pound spent is clearly justified. The decision we have made is connected to a wider review of strategic objectives and resource allocation.

“The decision taken in 2015 to increase Championship funding significantly was against a set of objectives and deliverables that we do not believe have been achieved.”

The league’s member clubs and their supporters spoke out against the decision, with Jersey Reds chairman Mark Morgan branding the decision 'immoral and irresponsible'.

The Pirates published a joint statement alongside fellow Championship side Coventry, which read: “Collectively we are very disappointed with many aspects of the RFU’s decision to drastically cut the funding of the Championship clubs, which could very well have a devastating impact on some of our fellow clubs, putting livelihoods and careers at risk, and which could also put some clubs out of business.

“The cuts in funding, which represent more than 50 percent once you take into consideration the withdrawal of reward funding and travel assistance for the Championship Cup – which in doing so puts the viability of this competition into question – are completely disproportionate, especially when compared to the 10 percent cuts made to the community game. In an ideal world investment would be going up, not down, but if cuts are to be made then they should be done so in an equitable manner.

“The Championship is an RFU tournament, meaning that the clubs do not control the league’s sponsorship rights; these are held by Twickenham.

"But over the last few years we have received no Championship-specific sponsorship funding, no Championship-specific TV broadcast deal, or any promotion by Twickenham of the community work which is being done by our clubs, such as wheelchair rugby, suicide prevention, and helping older people with dementia, and could also suffer as a result of these cuts.

“For the RFU to then use their own failure to deliver on these as a justification for unilaterally decimating the Championship is nothing short of outrageous, not least because it has come from people – CEO Bill Sweeney and Director of Performance Rugby Conor O’Shea – who have been in post for only a short time, in Conor’s case just a matter of weeks and with Bill only having been in the sport for six months.

"Furthermore there has been no formal audit process regarding the criteria they have used, and aside from the England-qualified player targets none of the criteria had funding related to them.

The statement added: “We believe that there is considerable potential within the league, whether in our player identification and development; the opportunities to play an important role in the growth and development of Constituent Bodies and England’s aspirational teams (England Counties, etc); investing in the innovative community and outreach work; and providing a permanent link between the university and professional game.

“Many of our clubs have also been investing in facilities or have plans to develop their grounds to provide better experiences for players and supporters alike.

“All of this is now at risk thanks to the actions of an RFU chief executive and board which clearly have a lack of understanding about the value we bring to our communities and English rugby.

“We are not going to be going away quietly. The RFU is one funding option but we will now be actively continue discussions with other potential funding partners whereby we can achieve our ambitions of being a vibrant, dynamic and entertaining league in our own right which makes a clear and demonstrable contribution to the growth of English rugby as a whole.”

The two clubs, in conjunction with Ealing Trailfinders, also revealed their vision of a sustainable future for the league.

In a blueprint published alongside the statement, the clubs proposed:

  • A thorough review of the format of the Championship league.
  • Exploration of new competitions in which the Championship clubs would participate, e.g. a new Premiership and Championship Cup; a new Championship and National League One Cup; British and Irish league; or third tier European tournament.
  • Clear and transparent governance of the competition, including the appointment of an independent chair and paid executive(s) to maximise the Championship’s commercial potential.
  • The proactive use of the best practices shown by large American and Australian sports (ie NFL, MLB, NRL, etc).
  • The introduction of new educational pathways to give opportunities for players cut by Premiership Academies to both remain within a professional rugby environment while also preparing themselves for life with a post-18 education.
  • Robust community programmes and the sharing of best practice across the league.
  • The introduction of comprehensive minimum standards across all areas of a club’s operations.
  • More efficient use of current central funding and re-allocating other funding streams within the sport to the Championship.