World League structure far from set, Pacific Nations must have development opportunities: Castle

by Iain Payten

Rugby AU CEO Raelene Castle says a final World League is far from settled on but Australia will be working to ensure the plan doesn't block the development of the Pacific nations.

Reports of World Rugby and leading nations being close to finalising a global competition, that doesn’t contain promotion-relegation, have created uproar and prompted tier two nations and the international players association to publicly voice their opposition.

The proposed details of a 12-year deal, as reported in New Zealand, would see USA and Japan added to the Rugby Championship, and a 12-team global competition, but without the means for aspirant Test nations like Fiji and Georgia to win their way into the tournament.

The players council expressed concerns about the impact on player welfare of the travel required to make a World League work, and a lack of consultation in World Rugby’s discussions.

World Rugby denied any details were finalised and said players had been consulted.

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, Castle said there was far from any deal done when it came to the World League but that Australia wanted to ensure that Pacific Islands had a key role in international rugby going forward.

Castle's comments came as Wallabies prop Scott Sio went into bat for the Pacific Island nations, saying that leaving countries like Fiji, Samoa and Tonga out of the process would be a "huge missed opportunity".

Sio wasn't on the phone hookup that involved close to 40 current and former players from around the world but as one of the RUPA board members, he has been part of the wash-up in Australia.

“World Rugby and the National Unions have been in discussions over the past six months to find an international rugby competition format that delivers increased fan engagement and improved commercial opportunities," Castle said.

"Rugby lives in a competitive sport and entertainment landscape and it is World Rugby’s role to find options that will help us remain at the very top of that landscape,” she said.

“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.

Raelene Castle at the Super Rugby and Super W launch. Photo: Getty Images“These exploratory discussions have been robust and complex, with player welfare, the growth of developing nations and protecting the great history of the game front and centre in the conversation.

"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.

“While these discussions are progressing with representatives from World Rugby and the National Unions in the room, nothing has been agreed or finalised.  We continue to work to find a proposal that could have universal stakeholder support, deliver to Rugby Australia’s growth targets and grow international rugby’s footprint.”

Castle's comments echo that of New Zealand Rugby boss Steve Tew earlier in the day, who said the financial benefits of a World League to the local game make it worth pursuing, but said a “pathway” for Pacific Island teams to join was a fundamental must-have.

 

New Zealand Rugby put out a statement from Tew also stressed plans were far from finalised but at a time when some are saying the World League is dead in the water, expanded on why he believed the tournament was worth pursuing.

It has been estimated each nation could pocket $10 million-plus from broadcast revenue and Tew says that money is sorely needed.

“It is well documented that the game is under pressure to grow revenues so the game from the community level up can thrive,” Tew said.

“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 (sic) game in this country that will also require new resources."

Sio said any plans to keep Pacific Island nations out of the World League concept would hurt those countries immeasurably.

"It would be a huge missed opportunity for both the island nations, but for World Rugby in general, to see the best players from all countries around the world compete," he said.

"I have a lot of friends who aspire to play for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, and for them to miss out on this opportunity wouldn’t be great for the growth of the game globally.

"I really like the idea of a World League and what it has to offer to grow the game of rugby, but to leave out a team who is currently ranked 9th from a 12-team competition is odd to me. Samoa and Tonga have also been up and around there before as well.

"I can understand that they are trying to grow the game commercially, but if we are trying to expand and grow the game we need the best teams playing and if those countries have earned the right to be included we’re obviously all for that."

The Brumbies will take on the Lions on Sunday morning. Photo: Getty ImagesTew said all the leading nations were looking to find a solution that worked for all stakeholders.

“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 Investec 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.”