New European cup format revealed after lengthy conflict
The sun sets during a European Cup rugby union match in Leicester, on December 8, 2013 - by Andrew Yates
In a joint-statement, the nine stakeholders also revealed that previous competition organisers European Rugby Cup (ERC) will be replaced by a new organisation, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), based in Switzerland.
"A new deal on European club rugby has been signed," read the statement.
"All nine stakeholders have underlined their commitment to an invigorated competition that will start in the 2014/5 season and meets the requirements of all the parties involved.
"It is a truly meritocratic tournament, with appropriate division of finances, underpinned by a long-term agreement and strong governance.
"It features three cross-border club competitions to be called the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new competition called the Qualifying Competition."
The 20-team Champions Cup will be the showpiece event of the new format and replaces the 24-team European Cup, which had run since 1995.
The reforms, which have been in the pipeline since June 2012, conform to the wishes of the French and English clubs, who at one point threatened to launch a breakaway competition called the Rugby Champions Cup.
The negotiations initially stalled over the issue of television rights, after the English clubs signed a unilateral contract with British broadcaster BT that contravened an agreement between ERC and Sky.
It was only after Ian Ritchie, president of England's Rugby Football Union (RFU), found a solution to the conflict that the new arrangement could be reached.
The English Premiership gave its backing to the new format, with chief executive Mark McCafferty saying in a statement: "These new club competitions will create top quality sporting drama for our supporters and commercial partners across Europe.
"They deliver a stronger playing format for everyone. We are now entering a new phase of growth in the club game and alongside the three professional leagues, we're confident that the new competitions will go from strength to strength, as well as incorporate new markets over time."