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The Covid recovery measures agreed by the RFU Council in June last year allowed for the Gallagher Premiership to be expanded to 14 clubs at the end of the 2021/22 season enabling the winner of the Championship to be promoted subject to meeting the required Minimum Standards Criteria.
Minimum Standards Criteria are in place to ensure Premiership Rugby clubs and promoted clubs have suitable facilities to protect player safety and welfare and to provide a good quality, safe environment for spectators. Each club and its nominated ground undergo an annual independent audit to assess compliance with the Minimum Standards Criteria.
All Championship clubs know the Minimum Standards Criteria required for eligibility for promotion into the Gallagher Premiership Rugby league. Standards have been in place for over 20 years and were refined last year to make the application of them simpler. The standards are agreed by the Professional Game Board (PGB) which has Championship Clubs representation on it.
This year two Championship clubs – Doncaster Knights and Ealing Trailfinders nominated their home grounds to be eligible for promotion and to be independently audited under the Minimum Standards Criteria.
One of the minimum standards criteria is that the stadium must hold a minimum of 10,001 fans; this is to ensure the ground falls under the remit of the Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA), regulated by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and the Green Guide, as well as to be of a standard suitable for the top league of one of the nation’s major sports. This has been in place for many years but was considered again when the standards were reviewed last season.
Ealing Trailfinders does not currently have a licensed capacity, but the ground holds approximately 5,000 with 2,115 seats.
Doncaster Knights currently has a capacity of around 5,183 with 1,926 seats.
As a result, the independent audit has found that neither club has successfully met the Minimum Standards Criteria based on capacity (as well as other factors). The PGB therefore made a recommendation to RFU Board that neither club could be promoted to the Premiership for the 22/23 season. The RFU Board has ratified this decision.
Both clubs have suggested they could seek to expand their facilities however no formal planning permissions are in place for this to happen. Neither Doncaster Knights nor Ealing Trailfinders proposed ground-share arrangements in their applications.
Bill Sweeney, Chief Executive Officer of the RFU said; “The RFU and PRL would welcome a Championship club being promoted to create a 14-team Gallagher Premiership league.
“In the past, clubs with home grounds which would not meet the Minimum Standards Criteria have nominated other grounds, under a ground-share agreement to provide a bridge between a club developing its own facilities to provide safe, compliant participation in the Premiership.
“The RFU and PRL would like to support and encourage all Championship clubs to continue to develop their proposals for the expansion and development of their grounds including the submission of formal planning applications.”
Both clubs are entitled to appeal the decision through an independent arbitration process.
This decision leaves 11 teams in the league and therefore only the winner of National One will be promoted to the Championship for the 22/23 season.