Wednesday 23 October 2019

Southern hemisphere teams hit out at missed 'golden opportunity' as World Rugby scrap Nations Championship plans

The Aviva Stadium. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
The Aviva Stadium. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile Newsdesk Newsdesk

World Rugby has scrapped radical plans for a global Nations Championship after failing to gain the required support.

The governing body needed unanimous support from the 10 unions who currently participate in the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship.

"World Rugby can confirm that it has taken the reluctant decision to discontinue plans for the Nations Championship after the required unanimous agreement by unions to enter into exclusive negotiations was not achieved by Wednesday's deadline," World Rugby said in a statement.

"Despite strong progress in collaboration with unions, competition owners and International Rugby Players, including full engagement on the detailed process of financial due diligence, a lack of consensus on key issues, particularly the timing and format of promotion and relegation, left World Rugby with no alternative but to discontinue the project."

The proposed format would have launched in 2022, with the Six Nations winners facing off with the top team from the southern hemisphere's expanded, six-team Rugby Championship.

World Rugby said the Nations Championship had been given a 12-year £6.1 billion guarantee from leading sports marketing agency Infront Sports and Media, backed by Hong Kong-based parent company Wanda Sports.

"The core objective of the Nations Championship was to secure a strong and sustainable financial and competition model for unions, provide for the first time a meaningful competition pathway for all emerging nations, further inject excitement into the international game for fans and broadcasters and develop new markets for the betterment of all," added the statement.

"Importantly, ownership of the competition would have been retained by the unions and competition owners without any sale of equity. Infront Sports and Media and Wanda Sports remain fully committed to World Rugby's objectives."

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World Rugby had anticipated the end of business on Friday as the deadline for unions to show their support or otherwise.

SANZAAR, the group that represents the four teams in the Rugby Championship, hit out at the decision to scrap the plans.

"The Nations Championship was a golden opportunity to grow the game internationally but is seemingly lost," SANZAAR chairman Brent Impey said in a statement.

"SANZAAR remains convinced that such a revamped international calendar is the right course of action supported by professional cross-border competitions such as Super Rugby and the various European premierships."

The controversial plan has had its opponents ever since it was first floated by World Rugby.

The proposals included creating two-tier tournaments for both the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, including promotion and relegation.

The Six Nations unions have previously shown resistance to promotion and relegation while leading players criticised World Rugby's lack of engagement over the entire issue back in March.

Pacific Islands campaigners fear the shake-up would reduce opportunities for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, given the November internationals would be redrawn.

The November-scheduled Nations Championship finals could cut down the regular chances for Pacific Islands to take on the world's top teams.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: "World Rugby undertook this important project with the best interests of the global game at heart in line with our vision to grow the sport as a game for all.

"While we are naturally disappointed that a unanimous position on the Nations Championship could not be achieved among our unions, we remain fully committed to exploring alternative ways to enhance the meaning, value and opportunity of international rugby for the betterment of all unions."

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