The news reverberating around the rugby world in the past several days has been the release of what the proposed World League of Rugby may actually look like.
It was reported that a two grouped competition with one group consisting of the existing Six Nations competitors, the other group comprised of the Rugby Championship nations with the addition of Japan and the United States would be the playing entities.
However as quickly as it was reported upon, the proposal has been criticized by playing figures and their representative body alike due to player welfare and the furthermore the quality and integrity of the game may be an issue. The other point of contention emanating was that there would be no facility for promotion and relegation from the proposed League thus shutting out emerging nations such as Georgia, Spain, Samoa and Fiji amongst others, however, World Rugby has since quelled such speculation.
From an Australian perspective, the new competition does provide significant financial attraction. The New Zealand Herald reported that each participating nation will receive between $12-14 million dollars a season and therefore it comes as no surprise that such a proposal has Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle interested.
“Finding options to review that will deliver increased commercial revenues that allow Australia to have a high performing Wallaby team, keep our best talent in the country and invest in community rugby, are not easy to find but must be explored.” Castle said to Fox Sports.
To understand the Australian perspective, understand that the Australian sporting landscape is a highly competitive market where the four football codes compete for the hearts and minds of a limited population. Presently Rugby in Australia does not have the lucrative television deals that the National Rugby League or the Australia Football League enjoy, therefore making financial investments into the community rugby game and development pathways an issue for the governing body.
In Super Rugby, the Perth based Western Force was axed by Rugby Australia and in Australia’s largest city, Sydney, the Penrith club in the western suburbs, effectively folded and have simply been unable to compete with the other Shute Shield clubs despite officials preserving Penrith from relegation for seasons.
There is no doubt that extra revenue to compete can assist in keeping rugby relevant in the Australian sporting market however in the current football climate in Australia, Rugby now finds itself in a position whereby acting with integrity and for the greater good may actually attract fans and players back to the sport in those hyper-competitive markets.
Presently in Australia, the other codes are each embroiled in significant controversies that would turn fans away from their game given the distastefulness of each controversy and how that may affect a parent deciding what sport their child may be allowed to play or watch.
Rugby’s natural competitor Rugby League, despite having the dollars has no sense.
Presently some of the games better players find themselves before the criminal courts on serious sexual assault charges, others are caught up in domestic violence incidents and another has had explicit ‘sex tapes’ released via social media.
Furthermore, recent comments from a former Australian Football League player Nick Riewoldt indicating that there is serious recreational drug use issue amongst the players is concerning given that his code has made significant in-roads into non-traditional AFL states such as Queensland and New South Wales, especially western Sydney where the local AFL Club, the Greater Western Sydney Giants are starting to become a credible side in the national league.
The other competitor, soccer finds itself in a bizarre employment and cultural fiasco with the recent mysterious sacking of Alen Stajcic who up until recently was Australian Women’s National Coach. The Football Federation of Australia has hardly covered themselves in any glory on how this process evolved and reasons why Stajcic was boned remains unknown.
Listening to talkback radio in Australia there general feeling is that Stajcic was poorly treated which brings the FFA’s governance into question. Australian’s love a fair go, and there is more than a prima facie case in the court of public opinion he did not get one.
In addition to the Stajcic saga, a well-known Australia soccer identity Craig Foster who is understood to have considered running for a position on the board of the FFA recently told the Sydney Morning Herald, “I’m not the type of person who is wanted by the stakeholders at this point in time, and that should concern everyone, because that’s exactly what we should have. The culture of the game at the moment is horrible. It’s been anti-football for a long time – by that I mean everything but football first.”
These controversies the other codes in Australia now have themselves embroiled in no doubt creates volatility in those hearts and minds of the sports consumer. Perhaps not enough to take away rusted on fans from their beloved Rabbitohs, Collingwood or Western Sydney Wanderers but certainly enough that if another option were to present itself as a game that is focussed on avoiding off-field violence, drug use, and self-interest, it could be a game they turn their attention to.
Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle has stepped rugby into the right direction on the World League issue by not chasing the much-needed dollar first and foremost. She has embraced common sense and decency which can facilitate a ‘turning back to rugby’ to occur. Castle recently told Fox Sports, “The competition model must provide opportunities for the Pacific Islands nations and other developing nations to continue to grow and compete with tier one nations.”
Good call Raelene!
The last time I checked the western suburbs of Sydney has a significant population of those who descend from the Pacific Island nations.
This ever-expanding region of Sydney has been home to the likes of Wallabies such as Totafu Polota-Nau, Will Skelton and Israel Folau all of whom are of Tongan descent. Yet more recently some talented rugby players of Pacific Islands descent have been attracted the National Rugby League rugby despite being schooled at traditional rugby nurseries. Rugby in Australia is in a fight to win in a space it once dominated culturally.
Case in point is Joseph Suaalii, once a teenage Wallaby-in-waiting who despite attending The Kings School which has produced Wallabies of the ilk of Jon White, Hugh Rose, Ross Reynolds, Dean Mumm, Ben Robinson, and Stirling Mortlock. He has signed a deal with the South Sydney Rabbitohs. The question here is, despite the education and its known pathway to the Wallabies, Suaalii was lost to the game of 13. Why?
Would Suallii, and other young pacific island talent like him, still be attracted to league if Rugby Australia ensured that the nations of their descent such as Tonga, Fiji and Samoa were given every opportunity to play in the World League of Rugby? Perhaps?
Would the Pacific Islander community leaders in Australia encourage their children to play rugby if it was a game that put into action the words and ethos that truly is the bedrock of the game as sung in ‘World in Union’, “Gathering together, One mind, one heart, Every creed, every color Once joined, never apart. Searching for the best in me I will fight what I can beat If I win, lose or draw, There’s a winner in us all.”
I think they would.
What parent would point their child towards a sport whose players find themselves before the courts facing serious charges? Or sports where drugs are reported to be an issue or where a person can appear to be removed from their employment without any clear or apparent reasoning? Whilst rugby has had its own issues currently it has some clear air and should not self-pollute by making revenue alone driven decisions.
Whilst some of these young Australian raised men and women may actually go on to play for Fiji, Tonga or Samoa through parental eligibility rules and not Australia that is not the issue. Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do and the right consequences will follow.
I tip my hat to you Rugby Australia and Raelene Castle on this issue.
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