Worcester’s hopes of returning to rugby union next season have suffered a blow after a takeover bid was rejected on Friday, while fellow crisis club Wasps were given the green light to feature in the English Championship.
Warriors’ former chief executive Jim O’Toole was leading an attempt to buy cash-strapped Worcester, but his Atlas consortium’s bid has been snubbed by the English Rugby Football Union.
The RFU said it will instead work with Worcester’s administrator Begbies Traynor to enable alternative bids in the hope of preserving professional rugby at Sixways.
Both Worcester, whose debts reached around £30 million ($36 million), and Wasps entered administration in October and were kicked out of the English Premiership as a result.
If approved by the RFU, any new buyers of the clubs would be able to relaunch in the second tier Championship, thereby ensuring their survival as professional entities.
While Wasps have the go-ahead to proceed in the 2023-24 campaign, troubled Worcester face a more uncertain future.
The consortium seeking to buy Wasps will be allowed to seal their deal subject to several conditions being met.
These include financial commitments to ensure that the club remains funded, the lodging of a significant bond and the swift payment of rugby creditors.
However, Worcester’s potential buyers were unwilling to meet the conditions requested of them, including not disposing of the land around the stadium and swift payment of rugby creditors.
“The RFU Board was not satisfied with the information provided, in particular relating to the financial position of the buyer and their ability to continue to fund the club and to deliver on the business plan provided which included significant development at the Sixways site,” an RFU statement said.
“The RFU has not been provided with sufficient evidence of funding. While some information has been provided, this has been only internal P&L information which appears to cover only part of the business of the main shareholder and the RFU was told that no further information could or would be provided.
“The RFU is also concerned by the public statement from the bidders that they are prepared to acquire the site and develop it without a rugby offering.”
Ahead of the RFU decision, Worcester’s prospective owners on Thursday released a statement accusing the governing body of “seeking to impose onerous operational conditions”.
Atlas said the RFU were hindering “any commercial business that is needed to support elite men’s and women’s rugby”.
But RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney insists he had the club’s best interests at heart, saying: “We are prepared to extend the deadlines to explore if an alternative bidder can be found who has the continuation of rugby in Worcester central to its business plan.”
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