World Rugby defends revamp plans

01 Mar 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

World Rugby has issued a statement in response to opposition expressing surprise in the way many of the game’s leading players have reacted to its proposed plans to overhaul the structure of the international game.

News broke this week of proposals for a new 12-team World League, combining the northern and southern hemisphere calendars from 2020. 

The competition, positioned between Rugby World Cups, would see every nation compete against each other, either through the Guinness Six Nations, the Rugby Championships, or via July or November Tests.

World Rugby first announced plans to alter the international calendar last year, in a move hoped to account for concerns over lack of competitiveness and the commercial potential of international rugby.

But the proposals have faced criticism from the International Rugby Players Council (IRP), comprising almost 40 players, which held a conference call involving nine of the world's top 10 players to discuss the ptential 12-year deal.

Amongst concerns raised were player load challenges, increased long-haul travel in short time frames, as well as a lack of real opportunities for Tier Two nations to progress.

Further issues included increased conflicts between club and country demands, impact on Rugby World Cup and Lions tours, as well as the long-term quality and integrity of the international game.

Omar Hassanein, International Rugby Players CEO, said: “World Rugby are failing to respect the players views and genuinely engage on the issues.

“It will be interesting to see their approach in the coming weeks knowing the current proposal does not have the players support.”

World Rugby responded by emphasising its unwavering commitment to player welfare.

Its communique also stressed that “assumptions made in the (IRP) statement regarding the proposed competition structure are inaccurate.”

With the consultation over the planned proposal still ongoing with stakeholders, World Rugby claimed it “recognises and values the importance of player considerations and input into the annual international competition discussions...”

"The manner the International Rugby Players (IRP) organisation has expressed these (considerations) is surprising given regular engagement throughout this ongoing process.”

The global governing body added that it plans to continue to engage and give full consideration to the welfare of players within ongoing discussions and that playing load and emerging nation opportunities are “at the heart of constructive dialogue on the overall concept.”

In the statement World Rugby said it believes that the new competition would deliver significantly greater long-term global media revenue for reinvestment in the global game.

It pointed to consumer research, suggesting that a structured annual competition would “make fans and new audiences more likely to watch, attend and engage with international rugby, exposing the sport to new fans worldwide.”

The statement concluded: “As instructed by our Executive Committee and the Unions, we remain committed to a process of constructive dialogue with all stakeholders, including the IRP.

“We also remain committed to deliver a model that ensures the best-possible competition and commercial outcomes for all and a truly exciting and meaningful annual international competition structure that is great for players, clubs, fans and unions.”

Earlier this year, Ben Morel, Six Nations Chief Executive, issued a statement emphaisising that the addition of any new international competition to the rugby calendar will need to offer a “substantial improvement on the current set up.”