Lack of long-term security puts Arms Park future at risk

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It is now just six-and-a-half months until Cardiff Blues Limited’s lease of the Arms Park expires, potentially leaving Cardiff Rugby and Cardiff RFC homeless, and Cardiff Athletic Club the owners of an unused rugby ground.

After over a decade of back-and-forth between the two organisations, who of course are closely linked through CAC’s three seats on the board of CBL Ltd, there was news back in February through the notes of a meeting with the CF10 Arms Park Rugby Trust that a three-year extension to the lease was close to being agreed.

However in April it was then reported that CBL Ltd had served CAC with a section 26 notice allowing them to renew the lease on the current terms. CAC had two months to respond, and could refuse the request if they have suitable grounds, but there continues to be no news from either side.

Now it’s fair to say that I’m not a fan of how either CBL Ltd or CAC have gone about this negotiation over a new lease, and that senior individuals on both should consider themselves essentially incompetent for effectively failing to reach an agreement with themselves. To use an unnecessarily upper-middle class metaphor, it’s similar to Waitrose failing to agree a new lease on a piece of land owned by John Lewis.

I am particularly not a fan of Cardiff Athletic Club as an organisation. I have been a member of the rugby section for a good few years now through my season ticket, and barring invitations to AGMs I think I can count on one hand the amount of times they have been in contact.

The full AGMs themselves are long and tedious affairs often with very few decisions made and largely taken up by the moaning of individual members, the most recent AGM of the rugby section lasted just nine minutes, and as far as I can work out the management committee have failed to meet throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic despite the emergence of Zoom making meetings and project progress easier than ever.

On the whole I find it to be a poorly run organisation that has no place in modern professional rugby, but in their defence I would pose this question; with Welsh professional club rugby in it’s current state, would you offer Cardiff Blues Limited a long-term lease if you were a landlord?

I certainly wouldn’t.

Looking at the recent announcement of the payment agreement between the four Welsh professional clubs and the Welsh Rugby Union through the Professional Rugby Board and it’s all well and good leading with an extra £2m for 2020/21, then increasing to £23m for 2021/22 and £23.5m for 2022/23, but only agreeing two years’ worth of payments is not enough for a business to properly plan for the medium and long term.

However, it’s not even two years’ worth of payments agreed as there’s a sentence tucked in below the figures that states, “As part of the agreement it is acknowledged that business plans for YE23 are indicative only and based on a number of current assumptions which may vary”.

In reality then Cardiff Blues Limited can only financially forecast with any confidence up to next June, and beyond that things get even more risky when you consider that there’s no certainty the business will even be able to enter a rugby team in the league competition that the first team plays in.

With the WRU as the shareholder of Celtic Rugby DAC, who operate the United Rugby Championship, it is they who could, if they so desire, refuse to enter Cardiff into the competition, as well as having all the say about the future direction of the competition.

So when Cardiff Blues Limited sit down and discuss terms of a new lease with Cardiff Athletic Club, what assurances can they give that any agreed rent will be able to be paid beyond next June, or that the business has any future beyond two years? In truth, very little. Couple that with the previous track record of late rent payments and it’s not a great look.

It’s another consequence of the Welsh Rugby Union running professional club rugby through a master-slave relationship, maintaining control in order to ensure that the cash-cow of the Wales national men’s team is as strong as possible, and the gravy train is running on time for the Union’s blazers.

Until Alun Jones and the PRB get to grips with that issue and get professional game running the professional game, then the clubs will continue a hand-to-mouth existence.

For Cardiff that could end up meaning a future away from our historic home.

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