New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew has spoken publicly for the first time since details emerged of a World League competition proposed by World Rugby.
The New Zealand Herald reported yesterday that an annual 12-team international competition, involving the Rugby Championship and Six Nations participants along with the inclusions of Japan and the USA, was set to be approved after leading nations came to an agreement over the tournament’s details.
An unknown broadcaster has offered to support the concept in a deal that will inject up to NZ$14 million every season into the coffers of the participating nations.
The idea of a World League tournament has been evident for a number of months, with representatives of leading nations meeting in Los Angeles last month to negotiate details of the competition, and there is now a sense of urgency to sign the deal off with concept plans to be launched next year.
The competition would see nations compete against each other throughout the year, with a finals series to be held in the northern hemisphere in late November and early December.
However, the revelation of the tournament details has been met with scathing criticism worldwide by players, fans and media, with the exclusion of tier two nations such as Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Georgia and Romania and the omission of a promotion-relegation system at the forefront of concerns.
Other issues include diluting the quality of rugby by including minnow nations such as the USA, and a lack of concern for player welfare, with extensive travel and high-intensity test matches in short time frames highlighted by leading players such as All Blacks captain Kieran Read, England playmaker Owen Farrell, and 2018 World Player of the Year Johnny Sexton.
Tew declined to comment on the matter when questioned by the Herald yesterday, but has now spoken out about the difficulty in balancing the interests of all involved parties in a statement issued by NZR.
“World Rugby and the national unions including New Zealand Rugby have been working hard to increase the meaning and value of international Test matches,” Tew said.
“It is well documented that the game is under pressure to grow revenues so the game from the community level up can thrive. It is obvious that here in New Zealand we are under pressure to retain our top talent as the international player and coach market continues to be challenging. In addition we have a huge opportunity to grow the woman’s game in this country that will also require new resources.”
Tew mentions NZR’s intentions to keep the Pacific nations involved in the proposed World League, saying it is the right course of action in order to keep the integrity of the competition intact.
“We are all working hard to find a balance between a model that delivers what fans are demanding, the welfare of our players, while at the same time ensuring we are preserving the integrity of rugby and providing a pathway for the smaller and developing nations here in Oceania but all around the world to develop and participate.
“It is fair to say that taking all of that into account, managing multiple stakeholders is complex. We cannot go into the detail of any of the proposals because there is a layer of commercial sensitivity to these discussions as we are trying to introduce new capital to our game.
“Having said all that there are some fundamentals that New Zealand Rugby has made very clear from the outset. Any new competition must have a pathway for new and developing countries to join including our pacific neighbours. That is not only fair and the right thing to do, but it also preserves the integrity of any competition. We can not add to the work load burden of our players with out making other adjustments and we are also mindful of the role of our other competitions Super Rugby and Mitre 10 Cup.
“World Rugby have been proactive and bought an idea to the table, we have been refining it over several months and a positive spin off has been some real commercial interest in backing it.
“Having said that nothing has been decided, we have not agreed to anything at this stage and have always been working to the March World Rugby meetings as the next opportunity to discuss the details.
“There’s no simple solution to this, but New Zealand Rugby remains committed to working through the proposals with the right people in the room.”
Tew is not the only administrator to have spoken out about the World League proposal since its details were revealed publicly, with World Rugby vice-chairman Augustin Pichot and World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper voicing their opinions on Twitter.
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