Why rugby union must innovate or die: Part II

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Yesterday, I gave some initial suggestions for why rugby union must innovate or die in the sporting market. Today I build on those suggestions with some ideas as to what rugby can do to improve the game worldwide and especially in Australia.

I propose that the IRB funds a ‘Rugby Institute’: an independent rugby think tank which analyses major talking points within the game.

Why should this be implemented? Because I believe that rugby’s progress forward is hindered by self-interest. What do I mean by self-interest?

Decisions made by traditional nations that may not serve the best interests of the rugby community.

How could this be possible? Look no further than the IRB voting system.

These 28 votes are broken into different groups, with votes apportioned according to the rugby status of the nation concerned. 16 votes (two votes each) are given to “foundation unions” of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France. Four votes (one vote each) are given to Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan.

Six votes (one vote each) are given to regional associations representing Europe, North America and the Caribbean, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Two votes (one vote each) are given to the chairman and vice-chairman.

This structure gives 57% of the voting rights to the established nations. However, it is the European bias which is the most concerning.

Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England have 8/28 votes (28% of the total vote). If you include France, Italy and the rest of Europe, than this means that Europe gets 12 votes (43%), Oceania gets five votes (18%), Africa gets three votes (11%), Asia gets two votes (7%), North America gets two votes (7%), South America gets two votes (7%) and two votes go to the chairpeople.

Also, most Council decisions require approval of simple majority, but to amend the IRB’s by-laws, regulations, or the Laws of the Game requires approval of three quarters of the Council.

In a perfect scenario (assuming no back-scratching occurred) most Council decisions (which require majority) could bypass “Europe” on a vote of 16/12. However, if you add in the chairperson (who is based in IRB headquarters in Ireland), then this ends up 14/14.

Potentially Europe gets 50% of the vote. Changing by-laws, regulations, or Laws of the Game (which requires three-quarters) is impossible without Europe. What this means, is that world rugby is effectively held to the decisions of the Home Nations + Italy.

However, in order to ensure this is the correct assumption, we need a comparison. Below is the previous ARU voting structure which can help provide a comparison.

Clear similarities emerge. Of the 14 votes five votes are given to New South Wales (36% of the total vote), three votes are given to Queensland (21% of the total vote) and six votes (1 vote each) given to VIC, ACT, SA, WA, NT, TAS (each has 7% of the total vote).

It is no surprise that the key recommendation from the recent Strengthening the Governance of Australian Rugby recommended a number of changes to the ARU’s voting structure. Quoting the Hon Mark Arbib (p.19) – “[these voting rights are] out-dated and no longer serve rugby well”

So what do voting rights have to do with “The Rugby Institute”?

There is a rumour that the only reason the ARU was forced into making significant reform was due to Federal government withdrawals of funding unless they did not modernise their governance structure.

Sadly, there is no incentive to modernise IRB governance. As such, I believe that any significant changes to the game are almost guaranteed to be voted down by the Home Nations + Italy.

After all, why would they want to change the current situation? Why would they change the game where the rules suit them? Why would they want to increase the level of competition where they could lose to Pacific Island teams?

Simply assuming that these countries will do everything in rugby’s best interest is naïve. Quoting Arbib (p.5), “the ARU cannot continue to rely solely on goodwill…to effective decision making….[the ARU] is currently too exposed to having its agenda hijacked by vested interests”.

Therefore, the establishment of an independent, impartial and evidence-based approach to issues affecting rugby union removes subjective opinion and provides clear direction of the future of rugby.

Self-interest has stagnated fifteens rugby. Furthermore, a perfectly substitutable product (rugby league) is rapidly rising in the Pacific. I believe that Europe is unaware and this is leaving the game vulnerable.

Stay tuned for Part III, where I will write what I believe are the priorities for investigation for the Rugby Institute.

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