CAPITALISM being what capitalism is, there have been plenty of examples of individuals and companies making money during this coronavirus pandemic.

Some provided vital goods and services and were justifiably rewarded and some were just out to make a quick buck any way they could, but I have actually been impressed with those many companies involved in rugby who have maintained their commitment to our sport when the pandemic could have been an excuse for walking away.

Sure there have been some sponsors and media firms trying to renegotiate their terms, but that is only to be expected. No one is suggesting for one minute that rugby should get extra handouts from the private sector, because life doesn’t work that way. I would have liked, however, to have seen more Government backing and greater input from the National Lottery, but understandably no sport was ever going to be first in the queue for cash assistance at this dreadful time.            

With my usual proviso that we should all be concentrating at this juncture on preserving lives and the NHS, the fact is that we are shortly going to emerge from the lockdown that has placed rugby and sport in general in utter disarray. There will need to be plans put in place to fund the return of the sport to active duty, so I don’t really feel guilty about raising the issue of the massive investment in the 6 Nations that is currently being negotiated with CVC Capital Partners.

CVC is a multi-national investment house headquartered in Luxembourg which numbers among its high heid-yins a Scot, Donald Mackenzie, who some followers of other sports may remember. It was he who took charge when CVC bought Formula One and some pundits reckon that for a decade the Dundee University graduate was the most influential person in F1 after only Bernie Ecclestone himself. The original purchase was part-financed by RBS during its Fred Goodwin spell, and CVC did exceptionally well out of the deal, making hundreds of millions over the ten years it owned the sport until they sold out to Liberty Media for $4.6 bn in 2016.  

I don’t know Mackenzie or anybody at CVC, but I know they are exceptionally good at what they do and investors have been happy to let the firm manage their money for almost the last 40 years.

The company states on its website: “CVC manages funds from over 300 investors from across the world who place their trust in CVC to grow and protect their capital. Many of these investors are pension plans that have invested with CVC since the early 1990s and have confidence in CVC's ability to help them to deliver pensions to their beneficiaries, which include teachers, police officers, nurses and fire fighters.”

According to the website, it has $135 bn of funds committed with $79.6 bn of assets under management.  It is known the firm has a long-term interest in investing in sport and has taken stakes in other sports, while reports of deals with the governing bodies of tennis and football have emerged now and again. It has not always been welcomed – its stay in F1 saw CVC and Ecclestone criticised for a drive to increase profits from new Grand Prix venues globally that threatened such venerable locations as Silverstone.

It was two years ago that CVC began talks with England’s top rugby clubs over buying the Premiership, but eventually they settled for a minority shareholding, reported as 27%, for the princely sum of £200m.  In May, as we all saw, CVC signed a deal with the PRO14 authorities for its CVC Venture Capital Fund VII to acquire a 28% share of PRO14 for a reported £120m. I’m told that money is an absolute lifeline for PRO14 clubs and their unions.  

CVC said at the time: “The partnership commitment will allow both PRO14 Rugby and the Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh rugby unions to continue to invest in the sport, both professional and amateur, to achieve its potential over the long term.”

Now here comes the bit that has a lot of people worried - CVC has made it clear for some time that it has had its eyes on the 6 Nations. The firm could see many potential developments with the tournament, and the idea of somehow merging the 6 with the Southern Hemisphere nations plus Japan and eventually the USA has been kicking around behind the scenes, effectively creating a ‘world league’, even before CVC got involved.

The point for me is that CVC will not run the 6 Nations but will clearly have a huge say in the future of the tournament. Recent reports that the firm has been haggling over how much to pay in the wake of the pandemic does not surprise me – they are, after all, capitalists.

I don’t think either side should walk away from the deal at the moment, as it could be very good for CVC and the 6 Nations, but it certainly needs a lot more open discussion than we have seen, not least because unless I have missed something, no one has consulted the most important people in any sport – the players and the fans.