World Rugby has defended its controversial Nations Championship concept, saying the proposed annual global tournament could earn the sport £5 billion ($6.6 billion) in 12 years.
Rugby chiefs want to launch a new cross-hemisphere contest in 2022, in which the winners of the Six Nations would face off against the top team from an expanded, six-team Rugby Championship in an end-of-year final.
The organization has opted to change the format by eliminating a semifinal, thus shortening the test match schedule for the top four teams.
"There was strong recognition that World Rugby's Nations Championship proposal, based on a true pathway for all, has been developed with great care, extensive evaluation and with the global game at the forefront of our thinking," World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement. "We are encouraged that the format revisions and robust financial model has been well received.
"Everyone, not just the established teams, will benefit, accelerating the development and competitiveness of the global game.”
Not everybody agrees, however. Here are five obstacles or questions
World Rugby Doesn’t Own All The Competitions
The Six Nations is considering an offer from former Formula One owners CVC Capital Partners to take a stake in it which, if accepted, would be a blow to the Nations League plans.
CVC, which in December acquired a little more than a quarter of the Gallagher Premiership, could inject about $263 million into the Six Nations.
Player Welfare Questions
The International Rugby Players (IRP)—led by their President and world player of the year Johnny Sexton—were furious at what they saw were commercial interests being placed ahead of player welfare.
In response, World Rugby took out the semifinals, making the season 11 matches, with the teams in the final playing 12.
Now, let’s say it all works out. Let’s say we have a Nations League of 11 test matches for everyone. How many nations will start to work on warmup matches? Will players be limited to 11 games, or will it be more?
Is 11 the right number? Can we find the time for 11 test matches, and still have time for professional games and time off? Everyone knows that players don’t get enough time off right now—not nearly enough.
The London-based Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) organization was angry about the initial proposal because they thought the Pacific Islands teams would not have a pathway to the highest levels. The USA was supposed to have that pathway, as would Japan—clear nods to the sponsorship opportunities in these countries.
According to the © Agence France-Presse, this was all pushed by World Rugby vice chairman Agustin Pichot.
But, World Rugby has now stated that everyone would have a potential pathway to the top levels.
The idea currently is that teams would move up and down between the two divisions. But imagine that Georgia wins the 2nd division, and Scotland finishes last in the top European division. What would happen then? Would Georgia replace Scotland in the Six Nations? It’s hard to imagine that would happen. England and Scotland have played each other every year (except during the World Wars) since 1871. That’s 136 games. That game wouldn’t be ditched because of the Nations League.
So you’d see it shoehorned in somewhere, or Georgia would be shoehorned somewhere.
That’s not the only fixture with a history.
Who Gets The Money?
If World Rugby does indeed sell broadcast and sponsorship rights for this, what happens to the broadcast and sponsorship rights of The Rugby Championship and the Six Nations? What happens to Rugby Europe?
Will we see a more standardized pay scale for international players? Will World Rugby profit from this (it’s assumed the organization will), and if so, will the unions profit, as well?
Think also that the revenue will come from one quarter, but the expenses go elsewhere. Paying for transportation for some 2nd or 3rd-division games comes from the money raised thanks to the strong following of the 1st-division teams.
(additional reporting from Agence France-Presse)