Gosper: World Rugby won't rush to approve IMG's sevens proposal
World Rugby is “a long way” from approving a proposal from IMG, the international sports and entertainment company, for a new, franchise-based European rugby sevens tournament, according to Brett Gosper, chief executive of the international governing body for rugby union.
Stressing that the proposal would under no circumstances replace World Rugby’s existing, national teams-based, HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, Gosper said: “Any other format would be complementary. But we’re a long way off approving that at this point.”
Speaking to Gulf News at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series’ Dubai Rugby Sevens yesterday, Gosper added: “We’re in an explorative phase now to see if it’s something unions want to get involved in or not.
“There was a desire to move on this reasonably quickly, but the 2018 calendar is already crowded with the Commonwealth Games and World Cup. But we will keep discussing these kinds of opportunities that can enhance the game.”
IMG, World Rugby’s long-standing commercial sales agent, has proposed that the tournament should take place in August and comprise franchises based in six European cities, including two in the UK and one in Ireland, with players selected via a draft system similar to that used for cricket's Indian Premier League, which IMG was instrumental in establishing.
IMG told Sportcal last month: “IMG has been working with World Rugby on a proposed concept around a professional Rugby Sevens League. The proposal, containing a thorough and comprehensive plan across all critical areas, has been tabled with World Rugby - a client of some 25 years through our RWC relationship - and is currently under consideration.”
IMG’s plan is reported to be one of several under consideration by World Rugby, as it seeks to shake up the rugby sevens calendar. A decision on whether to give the plan the go-ahead was supposed to be taken several weeks ago but has been deferred until the next meeting of World Rugby’s executive committee, after being pushed down the agenda by controversies over extended seasons and player burnout.
Gosper continued: “Anything we feel that would enhance the well-being, lifestyle and financial backing of players is important. That’s why we are looking at IMG’s proposal because it would supplement salaries and ensure quality players remain and others are attracted.
“But what’s clear is that the World Series would - under all circumstances - remain the pinnacle of the sport.”
The plan has been criticised by Mike Friday, the coach of the US team, on the basis that a rugby culture already thrives in Europe, whereas new markets like the Americas would benefit more. However, Gosper responded: “I guess they [IMG] felt the market return on their investment would happen reasonably quickly in Europe. As much as rugby is growing over there [USA] it’s a difficult market to grow from the commercial point of view.
“We’ve seen events and experiments stumble over there. We think we’ll have a massive [rugby sevens] World Cup [in San Francisco next year] but then there’s familiarity with [national] teams because of what the World Series has done. But would you go into city franchises there? You have to be confident to get crowds and return on money, but that’s up to investors to decide.”