World Rugby clarifies world league concept

South Africa's Siya Kolisi on the run against Wales, two teams among the proposed new world...
South Africa's Siya Kolisi on the run against Wales, two teams among the proposed new world league. Photo: Getty Images
After enduring strong criticism, World Rugby has moved to clarify its position on the merits and structure of an annual global competition ahead of key meetings in Dublin next week.

It seems the global body is insisting on promotion/relegation and does not plan to introduce the new test rugby model, should it be agreed upon, until 2022.

Leading players worried about their welfare and tier two unions fearing they were being excluded have spoken out in the past week about their concerns around the proposed changes to test rugby.

This has forced World Rugby into issuing the following statement:

"The current rugby broadcast market is complicated, which impairs the overall ability of the game – including players, fans, unions and clubs – to realise its full potential," the statement said.

"World Rugby is undertaking this important work on behalf of our unions to secure the long-term growth and stability of the sport in an ever more competitive sports and entertainment environment.

"It is incumbent on World Rugby to champion and represent the whole game, not just the top of the game, and we are committed to working with our union and player representative colleagues to ensure an equitable solution that works for all.

"The below competition model was tabled with union CEOs and International Rugby Players in September 2018:

- Nations Championship to debut in 2022.
- The Six Nations, the Rugby Championship and British & Irish Lions completely retained and protected as jewels in the calendar.
- Two-division, merit-based format with promotion and relegation and a potential pathway for all unions.
- Two conferences comprising the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship (where two tier two teams would be immediately added to make six in total).
- Each team plays the other 11 teams once either home or away with points accumulated throughout counting towards a league table.
- Top two teams from each conference would play cross-conference semifinals, followed by a grand final.
- Running in two of the four years in the World Cup cycle (not running in a World Cup year and truncated version in a Lions year).
- Broadcast rights aggregated and collectively sold, increasing revenue potential. Possibility to centralise some sponsorship rights.
- The competition would provide qualification and seeding for future World Cups.
- World Cup to be enhanced as the pinnacle global event, potentially moving to 24 teams in 2027.

"Player welfare is fundamental to our sport. Within the original proposal, players would play a maximum of 13 matches if their team reaches the final, compared to an average of between 12 and 14 test matches presently. Most teams would play 11 matches," the statement added.

"Growing the sport's fan base through more compelling competition is also vital as broadcasters will only pay more for a product that fans want to see. As part of the analysis, market research was conducted in the UK and France and more than 60% of people surveyed, who saw a video of the competition format, said the concept would increase their interest in international rugby, while only 4% said they would be less interested.

"Contrary to reports, our proposed competition provides opportunities for all teams to compete at the top level on merit, with promotion and relegation. Under this model, the Pacific Islands and all teams outside the current Six Nations and the Rugby Championship would have a potential pathway.

"With the proposed model incorporating competitions that are not owned or run by World Rugby, not all unions are presently in favour of immediate promotion and relegation. We continue to consider the feedback, but remain absolutely committed to an eventual pathway for all.

"Ongoing conversations and stakeholder views have shaped and evolved further elements for discussion, including improvements on player load in November. The next step in this process is a joint meeting of the World Rugby Executive Committee and Professional Game Committee [the bodies overseeing the project], who will be joined by union chairmen and CEOs and player representatives to consider and discuss progress and a way forward that is in the best interest of the whole game.

"Change is always difficult, and nobody expected complex multi-stakeholder discussions to be simple, however for a sport to grow and thrive, it must explore ways to innovate and evolve."

The statement does not, however, clarify how players would be able to deal with the demands of travelling between three different nations for the July tests in the southern hemisphere, or playing up to five headline tests in a row.

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