In February 2019, plans by World Rugby were leaked to the press for the formation of a World League. This World League would consist of 12 nations - the Six Nations competitors, the Rugby Championship Participants, plus Japan and USA. The participants would be fixed, with no relegation, for 12 years.
The World League would include every nation playing each other once a year (with part of the fixtures to constitute the Six Nations/Rugby Championship tournaments), with playoffs for the Top 4 Ranked Teams.
The purpose of this World League was to open new commercial avenues, based on unpublished research with 'fans', by generating interest in new lucrative markets in Japan and the USA.
We, the grassroots rugby fans from all over the world, strongly object to the World League in its publicised format for the following reasons:
- As noted by leading professional players, the proposed format increases the amount of international games top players are required to play in a year, as well as increasing back to back fixtures, often with long-haul flights in between. At a time when player welfare should be under the microscope, the proposed format puts the long and short-term health of leading players at risk. Clubs also face the prospect of losing international stars for even longer than they already do.
- The published 'lock-in' format of the tournament locks out some of the most talented rugby nations (both established and emerging sides), in particular Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Georgia. The proposed format will allow no access to top ('tier one') rugby for these sides and further limit growth and expansion in these areas. It will also lead to an increased player rugby exodus as ambitious players claim residency abroad - or move to wealthy club teams - in order to expose themselves to top-level rugby. These sides, particularly the Pacific Islands, have given so much to global rugby and it is criminal that they should be exiled from any proposed global format.
- There will be a significant devaluation of established world tournaments. The Six Nations and Rugby Championship will be relegated to simply 'filler fixtures', whilst the Rugby World Cup will lose its importance as the global centrepiece once every four years.
- The British & Irish Lions, one of rugby's greatest traditions, will no longer be feasible under the current format.
- Under the same token, the abolition of three-test series, or tours to a country in general by another nation (another popular tradition), will no longer be feasible.
- Matches against certain top nations (i.e. the All Blacks) will lose their long term commercial appeal and 'aura' if sides are playing them potentially twice every year instead of just once every two/three years.
There is limited to no desire for a World League amongst existing rugby fans. The proposed format (in its publicised version) represents little more than a quick-fix attempt to cash-in on the lucrative markets in Japan and USA by shoe-horning their national sides into a tournament which they may be ill-prepared for (or, at least there would be other nations more deserving). If World Rugby wishes to access this markets it should so by encouraging organic growth of the already thriving domestic games in these countries to develop interest from grassroots-up, rather than international-down.
The wilful devaluation of many proud rugby traditions is unacceptable to global fans of the world game. World Rugby should focus on encouraging access to existing tournaments for developing nations rather than creating an entirely new, and unwanted, format which sits far from rugby's values as an inclusive, open and accessible sport.
We, the undersigned, call upon World Rugby to abandon plans for a World League in its publicised format, or in any format which fails to address the concerns above.
The World Rugby to abandon plans for World League petition to World Rugby was written by Michael Cooper and is in the category Sports at GoPetition.