And so we all, Tiers 1 and 2, join hands and stride boldly into a new era of shared revenues, fresh players with a twinkle in their eye and an adoring public who can’t get enough of the new 12-team tournament World Rugby have apparently agreed is the way forward.
Or we don’t.
A year ago, World Rugby announced the shiny, happy results of their recommendation for the World Cup hosts of 2023: South Africa! Then the shadowy figures with votes in their pockets got to work and, sure enough, it went to the bid with the biggest economic punch: France. And we all wondered what the point was. If only this latest grand pronouncement didn’t feel the same.
Of course, it’s all for the Tier 2 nations, the sort of altruistic motives rugby likes to deploy when proclaiming all its boldest initiatives. Well, pick the Tier 2 nations out of this lot. It’s the Tier 1 mob and two others. Two Tier 2 nations. Out of 12.
One will be Japan (economic clout, if limited fundamental interest in rugby); the other, OK, will be everyone’s favourite Tier 2 nation, Fiji. Transformational. There will be promotion and relegation, apparently, so other Tier 2 nations will get the chance to replace the first two, but one of the models for the tournament sees it played over three years. Georgia, Tonga, Samoa and the like should not hold their breath.
Then there’s the ridiculous idea of a tournament conducted across July and November. Not July to November. July and November. There are going to be pool games in the first month, then half the competitors come back in a new season to finish what’s left of those pools and move on to the semi-finals and finals. If a more disjointed format for a competition could be conceived, let’s hear it.
They want to enliven dead friendlies, even though rugby’s calendar, unlike football’s, contains meaningful international competitions every season, even for Tier 2 nations. The idea that the current system somehow takes the edge off the international experience is absurd enough without further turning up the pressure in a calendar that is already a crime against humanity. Laughable altruistic pronouncements about player welfare are revealed again to be so much hot air.
Less is more, everyone keeps saying. Test matches have become devalued not because they’re friendlies but because there are too many of them. And, as for the pre-eminence of the World Cup, World Rugby’s only meaningful source of revenue, they devalue that at their peril.
But the main reason it won’t happen is because of the economy, stupid. This new idea requires England to pass up on their three/four £10m paydays at Twickenham in November, and for Wales, Ireland, Scotland et al to do the same. New Zealand would have to sacrifice their multi-million-dollar paydays outside the international window. In other words, when those shadowy figures with votes in their pockets next get together they’ll laugh the idea out of town.
Michael Aylwin’s novel about the future of sport, Ivon, is out now
Photograph courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/sumofmarc/