Sean Fitzpatrick calls for 'club window' to save dying rugby union
All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick has called for the implementation of a club window to stop international rugby cannibalising the domestic club game.
Speaking in an interview with journalist Steffan Thomas in The Times, Fitzpatrick said that the player drain to the international game was forcing clubs to field below-par teams, affecting the attractiveness of the product, both for punters and for broadcasters.
The sport hasn’t come out of the global pandemic well. A calamitous 2020 has left unions and private clubs shouldering massive debt, while match cancellations and the number of spectators allowed in the stadium remain an issue globally.
With doubt cast over the viability of tournaments, the market for rugby rights has been chastened, meaning some competitions have struggled to find broadcasters, both domestically and abroad.
This week both the Scarlets and the Dragons complained as rumours spread that the opening weekend of the new United Rugby Championship (URC) competition would clash with Welsh players’ time in the national camp. This forced the URC to release a statement clarifying that talks were ongoing regarding the opening games.
Fitzpatrick, who was capped 92 times at hooker for the All Blacks and spent his entire professional club career in New Zealand, has called for a ‘club window’ to counterbalance the international one.
“One thing we’ve learnt through Covid is rugby in this part of the world [Wales] isn’t sustainable,” he said.
“It has to change. This is not just from a Welsh perspective, it’s from a global perspective. If you have the right partners and a long-term goal then private equity is a good thing.
“Covid has forced our hand to look at other options. They are good options. What we are seeing globally is that the international game is OK, but we need competitions other than international rugby that generate income.
“This is why the club window is so important. We just can’t continue the way we are with our best players being unavailable for a lot of games. We need the best players playing.”
Fitzpatrick says that the only way forward is to cut the number of international games played.
“We need to make sure we have a club window with no international games at all, which is going to involve playing fewer internationals. Until we get a club window where we can get all our internationals on the field it’s not an attractive product.”
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