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English rugby temporarily lessens capacity rules for promoted teams

Featured image credit: Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

English rugby’s governing body has introduced a temporary reduction in the minimum stadium capacity requirements for teams promoted to the top-tier Gallagher Premiership after two teams were blocked from going up last season.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) said the Professional Game Board (PGB) had decided on Friday that clubs can now be promoted at the end of 2022-23 if they have a capacity of at least 5,000 – half the 10,001 that was previously in place, which caused Doncaster Knights’ and Ealing Trailfinders’ promotion from the second-tier Championship to be blocked in 2021-22.

Championship clubs will be audited in January 2023, at which time they must have a capacity of at least 5,000 plus planning permission to develop the ground up to a capacity of 10,001, with funding in place to achieve this. The club would have to demonstrate an agreement with a contractor to carry out the work in due course.

The RFU added that if the ground is not a Designated Ground under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, it must have in place a non-statutory safety certificate from its local authority, and confirmation from its local authority as to its assurance and enforcement process

For the start of the 2024-25 season, the club must have a capacity of 10,001 and a full statutory general certificate. The RFU said if these are not in place, it will result in relegation.

Phil de Glanville, PGB chair said: “It remains the view of the PGB that a minimum grounds capacity of 10,001 is important due of the rigour of the Local Authority issued safety certificate for stadia of this size in addition to its importance for fans, sponsors and broadcasters.

“We recognise the challenges of achieving promotion and sustaining the club once in the Premiership and want to support Championship clubs with a transition season to allow Championship clubs more time to achieve the 10,001 capacity criteria once in the Premiership.”

After being barred from promotion last season, Doncaster announced plans in the summer to nearly double the capacity of their Castle Park home from 5,139 up to 10,015.

After missing out on promotion last season, an Ealing spokesperson said in a statement: “In Ealing Trailfinders’ view, the number of spectators for promoted clubs must be grown sustainably and over time so that promoted sides or those with ambitions for promotion are not forced either into speculative, rapid, unsustainable and unnecessary spending on unused stands or facilities or into expensive and over specified ground share deals which take them away from their core fan base, employees, volunteers and communities.”