“Should sport administrators be evolutionary custodians of their respective sports? Or should they be money-driven radicals who ride roughshod over supporters’ views and preferences in pursuit of the filthy lucre?” Discuss
In England and Wales, it is wretched enough that we have the ECB’s city-based 100-ball franchise competition, which is threatening to disenfranchise legions of cricket supporters who have little interest in following The Hundred, either in person or on television – and yet won’t be able to watch their own county for five weeks or more at the height of the English summer.
And now we have World Rugby discussing the introduction of a 12-country “Nations Championship”, which would make its debut in 2022 and would, according to World Rugby, be a “two-division, merit-based format with promotion and relegation and a potential pathway for all unions”. Two conferences would comprise The Six Nations and The Rugby Championship (to which two second-tier teams would be added to make six in total), after which the “top two teams from each conference would play cross-conference semi-finals, followed by a grand final”. The Nations Championship would be played in two of the four years in the World Cup cycle, with a “truncated version in a Lions year.”
Even setting aside issues such as player welfare and which two countries would join The Rugby Championship (World Rugby deny it would automatically be the cash-rich USA and Japan, irrespective of their world rankings, at the expense of, er, rather less cash-rich nations such as Samoa, Fiji or Tonga), why would any sane rugby union fan prefer what would effectively be another three World Cups in every four-year period?
I think we all know the real answer, but why would some administrators want to include The Six Nations as part of a global competition? You may think The Six Nations should have promotion and relegation (although the “Big Five” should always be ring-fenced), but are you seriously telling me that the world’s most successful annual rugby union championship would be better off as part of a global “Nations Championship”? Do me a bloody favour.
In its latest press release “to clarify the organisation’s position on the merits and structure of an annual global competition”, World Rugby says that “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.” It further says that “World Rugby’s goal has always been to create [among other things, it should be stated] a better fan experience with enhanced meaning and attractiveness of fixtures”.
So, deeper down, is the concept of The Nations Championship truly to do with factors like “a potential pathway for all unions” and “a better fan experience”? Or is it an opportunistic attempt by certain southern hemisphere countries to get their mitts on a share of a new global broadcast deal and dress it up by telling us that it’s all for the good of the wider game? No sniggering there at the back.