The International Rugby Players Council has highlighted a number of flaws in the newly proposed World League competition.
The proposal for the league, which will see 12 nations play each other in a calendar year from 2020, reportedly has support from all 12 nations after being under consideration for several months.
But about 40 senior players from those nations – including All Blacks captain Kieran Read, England captain Owen Farrell and Samoa captain Chris Vui, as well as Ireland’s Johnny Sexton – have warned of serious player welfare and integrity concerns around the competition’s structure.
‘We need to be very careful that we balance the commercial needs of the game with the player welfare needs, and ensure the quality and integrity of matches meet expectations,’ Read said. ‘Fans want to see meaningful games; they don’t want to see fatigued players playing a reduced quality of rugby as part of a money-driven, weakened competition that doesn’t work for the players or clubs.
‘With new technologies, new broadcast deals and new money coming into the sport, this is a crucial moment for rugby, and one that many players are generally excited about. However, we have to make sure that the integrity of the game and welfare of the players are protected.’
In his capacity as president of the International Rugby Players Council, Sexton said: ‘While players gave this idea a cautious welcome when we met at the end of last year, it now seems like a commercial deal on the future of the game is being negotiated at a rapid pace, with little consideration given to the important points we raised with World Rugby in November.
‘The issue of player load has never been so topical, however it needs to be properly understood. To suggest that players can play five incredibly high-level Test matches in consecutive weeks in November is out of touch, and shows little understanding of the physical strain this brings.’
The council’s concerns are in relation to:
- Player load challenges from multiple top-level Test matches in different countries and time zones in consecutive weeks.
- Increased long-haul travel in short time frames.
- A lack of real opportunities for tier-two nations to progress.
- Increased conflicts between country and club demands and Regulation 9 release periods.
- Potential impact on World Cup and Lions tours.
- The long-term quality and integrity of the international game.
Council CEO Omar Hassanein confirmed that the players’ views have been conveyed to World Rugby on several occasions.
‘World Rugby is failing to respect the players’ views and genuinely engage on the issues. It will be interesting to see their approach in the coming weeks, knowing the current proposal does not have the players’ support.’
World Rugby responded to IRP later on Thursday via a statement on its website.
‘World Rugby recognises and values the importance of player considerations and input into the annual international competition discussions.
‘However, the manner the International Rugby Players organisation has expressed these is surprising given regular engagement throughout this ongoing process. World Rugby’s commitment to player welfare matters is unwavering and we will continue to engage and give full consideration to the welfare of players within the ongoing discussions.
‘It is inappropriate to comment on specifics whilst wider stakeholder consultation, including with IRP, is ongoing. However, it is important to note that some assumptions made in the statement regarding the proposed competition structure are inaccurate and that important matters such as playing load and emerging nation opportunities are at the heart of constructive dialogue on the overall concept.
‘Consumer research confirms a structured annual competition would make fans and new audiences more likely to watch, attend and engage with international rugby, exposing the sport to new fans worldwide. There is also no doubt that a structured annual international competition would deliver significantly greater long-term global media revenue for reinvestment in the global game. This project has at its heart long-term growth and stability, not short-term wins, and that includes greater opportunity for players.
‘As instructed by our Executive Committee and the Unions, we remain committed to a process of constructive dialogue with all stakeholders, including the IRP, to deliver a model that ensures the best-possible competition and commercial outcomes for all and a truly exciting and meaningful annual international competition structure that is great for players, clubs, fans and unions.’
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— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) February 28, 2019
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images