Covid-19 coronavirus could be the re-making of rugby in New Zealand.
Frankly it needs to be, because the game’s going to go broke in the meantime.
Aidan Ross of the Chiefs
Proclamations are overtaken by actual events every five minutes at the moment, but it seems pretty safe to say Super Rugby is a goner for 2020. At least in an external sense.
Likewise, the All Blacks’ planned fixtures against Scotland and Wales, followed by The Rugby Championship, surely can’t go ahead. We all understand that SANZAAR, and their constituent partners, need rugby to resume as soon as possible, but it’s hard to see how that would be feasible or even in good taste.
Many of us take what we read and see and hear with a grain of salt these days. To be really honest, we probably even ignore it entirely, safe in the knowledge that the person telling the story is exaggerating or a halfwit and maybe even a flat out liar.
It’s why the suspension – and probably soon to be cancellation – of so many sporting competitions has come so suddenly and so shockingly. We all assumed this coronavirus thing was just another Y2K bug or similar and certainly nothing that would affect us personally or the codes we followed.
Instead, we’ve got a genuine pandemic on our hands, which various governments appear to be late comprehending themselves. People are dying in big numbers – and appear likely to continue doing so – meaning sport is hardly a priority.
Problem is for SANZAAR, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and all the rest of them, is that games pay the bills. Everyone’s finances are stretched to the limit and when the money stops flowing, because nobody’s playing or attending footy, then things are going to get pretty desperate pretty quick.
Get ready to go hyper-local, then.
There’s no way NZR can let months pass idly by here. It’s impossible to know what a safe or respectful hiatus is, but you assume we’ll get live rugby back on TV within maybe four or five weeks.
That’s likely to be just New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchises for starters but, in time, there’s every reason to suspect club, schools and provincial footy will all receive significant airtime too.
We’re forever told there’s no market for New Zealand rugby. Sure, we far prefer watching our own rather than, say, South African or Australian Super sides, but it’s not financially sustainable.
Fair enough, but here’s a chance to change that. To fix a model that’s broken anyway and create a demand for our own product.
Can you honestly see the All Blacks travelling the world this year and having other sides tour here? Not at this rate.
So if there’s going to be rugby, then it’s going to be the sort that we older folk grew up with and which doesn’t feature teams who fly in from hither and yon.
Will it be able to pay for itself? The honest answer is maybe and depends to a large degree on just how bad this pandemic gets.
Put it this way: we might never see stronger demand for New Zealand rugby ever again.
Things need to change and, more than anything, players need to accept wages far more in keeping with what the rest of us make. These guys were bankrupting the game long before coronavirus and we haven’t even seen the worst of that yet.
People in this country like to profess their love for rugby. They like to dub it our national game and to revel in the performances of players from nursery grade level right on up to the All Blacks.
Well, an opportunity is coming to make that a reality again. To celebrate the New Zealand game and to develop a model that might sustain it through pandemics, global financial crises and whatever else.
The short-term effects of coronavirus could be really grim for all of us, let alone the good folk who play and administer rugby. But what emerges in the aftermath might be the best thing to happen to rugby in New Zealand for many a year.
Leon MacDonald joins The Breakdown to discuss the Blues:
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