Worcester suspended from Premiership for 2022-23 season, announces RFU

Worcester Warriors have been expelled from the Premiership for at least two years after the Rugby Football Union confirmed the club’s suspension until the end of the season as well as their relegation to the Championship for next term.

The move represents another dark day for the domestic game, with the Rugby Players’ Association demanding that its members, dozens of whom have been made unemployed this week, are “fully involved and consulted in any discussions regarding their future and the future direction and structure of the professional game”.

Though there is hope of soon reviving Worcester’s women’s side, there is now no prospect of top-flight men’s rugby at Sixways until the 2024-25 season at the earliest unless the Warriors can successfully appeal against automatic relegation. It is understood that Worcester’s results so far this season will be scratched.

Earlier on Thursday, the administrators had provided hope Worcester could at least avoid extinction when revealing that the land around Sixways had been seized and would be part of any future sale. But given the amount of time a sale is likely to take, the RFU – coming under increasing fire for allowing Worcester to descend to their current plight in the first place – has moved swiftly.

The RFU has also insisted that “any potential deal will include a requirement for the payment of all rugby creditors including any outstanding salaries owed to staff, players and coaches” – and along with Premiership Rugby, insisted that the necessary due diligence, which critics claim was absent when Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring took control of Worcester, will be carried out. “As the club no longer has staff and players on contract and with many seeking alternative employment, the decision has been made to focus on how the club can be viable over the long term,” read an RFU statement.

While a handful of players have already found new clubs – Joe Batley’s return to Bristol was confirmed on Thursday night – the outlook is bleak for the majority of the squad, so much so that the RPA has issued the 12 remaining clubs with a “free agents” list in an effort to relocate players.

A number of Premiership clubs, however, do not have room for additions under the salary cap – though there are dispensations for injury cover – and even if they do, market forces are likely to mean players fortunate enough to find new clubs face cut-price deals.

Accordingly, the RPA is calling for more of a say in what now happens to the domestic structure of English rugby.

Discussions over the next Professional Game Agreement have been accelerated by recent events and though the RPA has input, it is seeking greater influence. “The RPA becoming a signatory to the new Professional Game Agreement would mean formal recognition of the players as partners in shaping the long-term future of the game,” the players’ union told the Guardian. “This would mean formal consultation would be necessary on major issues affecting the game, such as financial sustainability and welfare.”

It remains to be seen what will become of Worcester’s P share, which gives them access to an annual portion of the Premiership’s central revenue and funding. It has been suggested that the remaining 12 clubs could carve it among themselves either for free – because of Worcester’s insolvency – or for about £10m. However, because a number of clubs value their own P shares significantly higher on their balance sheets, recognising a lower value could create problems for themselves with auditors further down the line.

Given the sheer amount of debt in which Premiership clubs are swimming, it has also been suggested to the Guardian that a P share is, in reality, worth only a small fraction of the current valuations. The PRL chief executive, Simon Massie-Taylor, said: “Whilst we appreciate this decision will be disappointing to many people close to Warriors, we value the certainty this decision brings to the other Premiership clubs. We will now continue to work with the administrator, the RFU and other key stakeholders to find the best outcome.”

Meanwhile, Wasps’ stadium could be seized by Coventry city council if they follow Worcester into administration. The council, which is the freeholder of the Coventry Building Society Arena, has the right to take control of the stadium “if the tenant enters into some kind of insolvency regime”.

Wasps have around a week to avoid such a plight after filing a second notice to appoint administrators on Tuesday.