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#SaveRugbyUnion proposes radical new international club competition

Reds fans celebrate after the Round 7 Super Rugby match between the Queensland Reds and the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Saturday, April 9, 2016. (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)
3rd October, 2017
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Is Rugby Union in trouble? It’s a topic that has come up more than once on The Roar this year. Today Geoff Levy and David Shein have launched a #SaveRugbyUnion campaign calling for change.

Levy and Shein say that SANZAAR’s strategy of managing the game is not working, and argue that club competition should be reorganised into a conference-based world championship featuring privately owned franchises.

Chief concerns are the continued departure of players to the northern hemisphere in search of greater remuneration, and the damage that seeking to increase TV revenue has done to the equity of competitions.

The state of the rule book, and whether it is simple and easy enough for fans and referees to understand and enjoy the game, is also at issue.

Levy and Shein have launched a survey where Rugby fans are invited to voice their concers about the game.

Have a read of their full statement below, and let us know what you think in the comments.

Rugby requires change. Below international level, the rot has set in. Audiences are dwindling. The rule book is incomprehensible. Australian rugby is imploding. Pacific Island’s rugby is languishing. Great players leave for the Northern Hemisphere – the only place they can be paid their worth.

Rugby requires change if it is to remain relevant to the fans. It requires change to rebuild the excitement we all feel for the game at its best. Above all, it requires change before the interest in the game we love evaporates completely.

Fundamentally, rugby requires a new competition structure where teams play in conferences in the same time zone – regardless of Hemisphere.

As players, interested parties and officials we know this is a radical shift for international and club rugby.

But, SANZAAR’s strategy is not working.

We are calling for a global competition of privately owned franchises divided into three or four conferences. Critically, the teams in each conference would play in the same time zones, irrespective of Hemisphere.

Each conference has 10 teams playing each other home and away each season. The top four in each conference play off in their conference finals. The winner of each conference (and a wild card if there are only three conferences) play off for the World Championship.

In other words, a simple-to-understand competition where every year each franchise team has an equal chance of becoming World Champion. We are sure fans will want to follow their team as they pursue the mantle of the world’s best. Compare this with the competition today, a competition literally cobbled together and one which is all over the place.

A quality competition with strong fan equity has been sacrificed to TV revenues and the need to deliver a high volume of games for broadcasters no matter how poor or irrelevant the competition, or how inconvenient the time zone for players and fans alike.

It’s time for a competition structure similar to that envisaged some 25 years ago. In 1995, the World Rugby Corporation (WRC), a consortium of international business people with rugby in their hearts, sought to transform the game by taking it professional and establishing a global competition structure.

Much of what was proposed then is relevant today, including the new competition format and some other principles. These include:

1. Rules that are simple and easy to understand for everybody, referees included

2. A consistent, global quality standard of refereeing and a logical referee appointment process befitting a global competition

3. A positive, fresh, dynamic culture and approach

4. Use of event experts to help rather than only relying on traditional rugby people

5. A differentiated and vastly better experience at the game – a vibrant competition needs full grounds. Fan equity is everything

6. Pricing competitive to other entertainment options

7. Superstars not lost to home fans but available to play for their country no matter where in the world they ply their trade

The WRC sought to transform the game. Along with creating a new era of professionalism, the WRC vision also incorporated protecting Southern Hemisphere rugby as a major international football code and stimulating the longterm development of the game on the world stage.

At the time the Rugby Unions labelled the WRC the enemy of the orthodoxy of the game. Yet its founders are widely acknowledged as the catalyst for necessary, well overdue and revolutionary changes. It was time for the game to pivot before it was disrupted.

AND it is time again to #SaveRugbyUnion.

Tinkering around the edges won’t cut it. Without fans the game cannot remain meaningful or relevant.

So now, twenty years later, if rugby is going to get it right, it is time for SANZAAR (which was born as a result of the changes forced by the WRC) to revisit the principles and competition structure that the WRC proposed. What was true then is still highly relevant today and as new, bold people take over, hopefully things can be viewed with an open mind.

But change can only be driven by the fans, players past and present, and officials.

That is why today we are calling on them to have their say. Today, we have launched a new conversation to help stimulate discussion and debate around the changes required. Those who want to have their say can take our poll on our Facebook Page.