The Rugby Football Union (RFU) council has opted to suspend relegation from the Premiership and second tier Championship this year after passing a ‘strong majority vote’ on Friday.

Council members agreed to put promotion and relegation on hold as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the impact the pandemic has had on its leagues and teams. The vote means that the league will expand to include 13 teams next year, whilst the Championship will consist of 11 teams.

A handful of top flight Premiership matches were cancelled this season and the governing body concluded that a points-based system to decide the outcome of league rankings would be unfair.

Moreover, the RFU suggested that the promotion and relegation could be suspended for ‘three or four seasons’ to allow teams to recover from the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

An RFU statement read: “It is hoped that proposals will include a different approach to promotion and relegation from the Gallagher Premiership. The aim will be to retain the ambition of clubs in the Greene King IPA Championship and below and to continue to allow a route to promotion to the Gallagher Premiership. New minimum standard criteria, investment in facilities and club funding will be discussed.”

The RFU will consult with stakeholders, sponsors, clubs, players and fans on the future of the competition.

Last week, rightsholder BT Sport expressed ‘strong opposition’ to the vote to scrap relegation, arguing that removing promotion and relegation would ‘seriously’ diminish the value of its domestic package, which is said to be worth around £36.5 million per season.

Darren Childs, Chief Executive of Premiership Rugby, explained: “The priority for everyone involved has been to protect the long-term sustainability and success of English professional rugby for the fans and clubs who have endured huge financial and sporting challenges throughout the last two seasons.

“The progress being made collaboratively with all our key stakeholders across the sport has been fantastic. Our focus remains on continuing to strengthen that alignment through transparency and dialogue around the long-term success of the game at a domestic and national level in England.”

The governing body will review the domestic calendar to ensure players have sufficient preparation time leading up to the 2023 World Cup. Any further structural changes to the league will be decided by another RFU council vote at the end of 2020/21 season.

“The RFU Council has taken time to understand and discuss all the factors regarding no relegation for this season so that we act in the best interests of all levels of the game,” remarked RFU President Jeff Blackett.

“We want to ensure a healthy elite game to support successful winning England teams that generate income to stimulate and preserve the game across all levels. The Council will continue to be closely engaged with the proposals from the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the Championship to ensure we maintain the integrity of the future league structures for England Rugby.”