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World Rugby insists it wants promotion/relegation in Nations Championship

Rugby’s governing body has moved to officially clarify its position on the new Nations Championship.

WORLD RUGBY HAS insisted that it is in favour of promotion and relegation in the new Nations Championship, which it has proposed to begin in 2022.

The global governing body was widely slammed last week following reports that it was attempting to push through an annual 12-nation competition which would not involve promotion and relegation.

Some of the world’s leading players also voiced their concerns around the reported concept, expressing strong reservations about the possible travel and workload demands that could be asked of them.

World Rugby has today issued a statement to clarify its position on the “merits and structure” of the annual global competition ahead of a meeting of unions in Dublin next week.

World Rugby says some unions are not in agreement about promotion/relegation and stressed that most nations would actually play fewer Tests each year under the proposed new competition.

The governing body also insists that the new competition would not diminish the value of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, although it would see two Tier 2 nations joining the latter competition to bring that up to six.

The statement says that World Rugby made a proposal to union CEOs and International Rugby Players, the body representing professional players, in September 2018 based around the following key points:

  • The Nations Championship to debut in 2022.
  • The Six Nations, The Rugby Championship and the British and Irish Lions completely retained and protected as jewels in the calendar.
  • A 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 (to which two ‘Tier 2′ 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 semi-finals, followed by a Grand Final.
  • Competition to run in two of the four years in the Rugby World Cup cycle (not running in a Rugby World Cup year and with a truncated version in a Lions year).
  • Broadcast rights aggregated and collectively sold, increasing revenue potential. The possibility to centralise some sponsorship rights.
  • The competition would provide qualification and seeding for future Rugby World Cups.
  • Rugby World Cup to be enhanced as the pinnacle global event, potentially moving to 24 teams in 2027.

World Rugby insists that player welfare is “fundamental to our sport” and points out that the proposed new Nations Championship would see players play in a maximum of 13 Tests if their team reaches the final, and that most teams would only play 11, which it says is fewer than currently the average.

The World Rugby 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.

Brett Gosper Chief Executive World Rugby World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

For example, under the proposal, Ireland could play in the US, New Zealand and Japan on three consecutive weekends, placing huge demands on their players’ ability to recover.

World Rugby’s statement says that despite reports to the contrary, its proposed competition “provides opportunities for all teams to compete at the top level on merit, with promotion and relegation.”

World Rugby claims that “not all unions are presently in favour of immediate promotion and relegation” while insisting that the global body remains “absolutely committed to an eventual pathway for all.”

Money is, of course, an important part of this and World Rugby says the proposed model would “boost annual media revenue for international rugby and unions, for reinvestment in the game, by a substantial amount.”

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

With the next set of talks to take place in Dublin next week, World Rugby says it will continue to push the global advancement of rugby.

“Change is always difficult,” concludes the statement, “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.”

Meanwhile, the International Rugby Players council will meet next week to discuss the proposed Nations Championship, as well as “plans to ensure a more meaningful and effective engagement with World Rugby.”

“Our players are incredibly passionate about having their voices heard, not just in relation to the proposed international season, but in respect of all player issues that impact the men’s, women’s, 15s and 7s game,” said International Rugby Players CEO Omar Hassanein.

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Murray Kinsella

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