'Can you help Qatari rugby?': The 'super-corny' URC debate
The United Rugby Championship (URC) views staging non-competitive games in Qatar as the first step towards establishing itself in the region. Chief executive Martin Anayi has ruled out taking URC or European matches to the Arab nation in the immediate future but is willing to explore other possibilities in the wake of signing a three-year sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways.
While partnering with the state-owned airline will help with the logistics of travel, following the entry of South African teams into the URC, there are hopes it will also enable tentative expansion into the setting for this year’s football World Cup. “It’s a process actually and I know that sounds super-corny,” said Anayi at the 2022/23 tournament’s launch in Slough.
“Our championship games, whether that is URC or Champions Cup games, are so important to our clubs and the fans of those clubs that to take any of those games away from a home crowd is really difficult.
“We have had this conversation around ‘can you take games to the US’, which is slightly less challenging logistically or from a conceptual point of view because there have already been games in the US. It’s going to be really, really hard to take a championship game there, but can you take baby steps?
“Can we have winter training camps like football have in Qatar? Can you take pre-season matches to the air-conditioned stadiums and take full advantage of the legacy that they want to achieve there? Can you set up new competitions? Can you help Qatari rugby?”
URC share an office in London with Six Nations and Premiership Rugby in a recent move designed to coordinate efforts to grow support for the game, particularly by enticing international fans to follow the club game. It is a goal shared by the URC and the English league, but both competitions have been shaken by the financial crisis that has engulfed Worcester who are fighting for survival while choked by debts thought to exceed £25million.
Other Premiership clubs are suffering while Welsh regional rugby is also financially vulnerable, prompting Anayi to consider the benefit of a game-wide ownership model. “The importance of Worcester to the community of Worcester means that it isn’t something that can be owned by one or two individuals,” Anayi said.
“It should be something that is more widely owned and therefore something that is more robust if something does go wrong with those individuals. But no one has got the answer. We need to sit down as a game and ask ‘how are all these clubs going to be owned in the future?’ Can we learn from football? How are they owned elsewhere in the world?
“We don’t even have one ownership model in the URC, never mind the game. So it’s 100 per cent time to have that conservation about how should a professional club be run and owned and what’s its role within the game? It can’t be on its own in a little silo over here because the economics don’t work like that. There has to be a better way.
“We need to have a conversation and unfortunately Worcester is the reason that conversation has been accelerated, but it’s not just Worcester and the Premiership, it’s elsewhere. Clubs are not making the money they should be making and that’s because we’re not working together yet.”
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