Pichot: Rugby faces ruin without a balanced international calendar
Rugby union - 13 Sep 2018
Rugby union needs to develop a new international calendar that works for both club and country sides or risk “ruin,” according to Agustín Pichot, vice-chairman of World Rugby, the sport’s international governing body.
Argentina’s Pichot (pictured) said yesterday: “If you ask me as a businessman, the business side of it is not working. If you ask me as the playing side, it’s not working. Is the international game under threat? I think it is. Look at the balance sheets of some nations and you can see exactly where we stand.”
Pichot said that rugby needs “a blueprint for the next 10 years,” by the time of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, despite World Rugby having announced just 18 months ago an agreement that was intended to give clarity to the global calendar until 2032.
Fresh discussions on how to make international test matches more viable will be held in Sydney later this month, according to Pichot, who said that there are “a lot of problems that we need to address.”
He continued: “My view is that players cannot carry on playing as they are now. You cannot have them playing 30-odd competitive club and international games just because you want bums on seats
"I have been a professional player so I understand how it goes but you have to take care of the athlete. The first principle is the players’ welfare because they inspire everyone, both us now and the next generation. That is important for the growth of the game.”
Under the 2016 agreement, the present June international window is to move to the first three weeks of July to enable Super Rugby, the southern hemisphere’s provincial championship, to be completed first. There will also be a minimum of a 39-per-cent increase in matches between top and second-tier nations over the 2020-2032 period,
Pichot added: “I’m a business guy and I want to have a safe business model and for the international game to be respected. The growth of the game is very big for me; I like to see emerging countries develop.
“If rugby wants to be big and a sound business, we cannot behave like an old-school organisation. We have a group in Sydney to reopen the door, then I think all parties should meet again. We should work with them to see what’s better. How many games does a club need to break even? How many games does a nation need? But ask the big club owners and they all want the international game. It is not a question of them not wanting the international game.”
Brett Gosper, World Rugby’s chief executive, backed Pichot’s call for top players to play fewer matches, telling BBC Radio 5 Live: “There's a growing belief less may be more. It's a 'Catch 22' where national unions, in order to pay their players, will increase their inventory of the number of games. That has a negative effect on values.
“You've got to find the right balance of course. There's player welfare mixed into that, where players should only be playing a certain number of games a year whether they’re playing club or international rugby.
"But there’s a growing realisation, there's a lot of conversations around that of making those international games more meaningful but doesn’t necessarily mean making more of them.”
• The Welsh Rugby Union is reported to be seeking over £20 million ($26 million) for a new, three-year contract to televise Wales’ autumn international matches, valuing the rights for each of the four matches at over £1.5 million.
The present agreement with the BBC, which expires after this year’s matches, is worth £15 million. The WRU is reported to have been holding talks about a new contract with pay-TV’s Sky and BT Sport, as well as free-to-air broadcasters ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC.
Earlier this month, commercial broadcaster Channel 4 was awarded rights to Ireland’s home autumn internationals for the next four years.
Channel 4, which next month will begin showing selected matches from the European Rugby Champions Cup, the top continental clubs competition, will begin its live Irish rugby union coverage in November with coverage of games against Argentina, USA and world champions New Zealand.
Ireland’s home autumn internationals have been shown in the UK by Sky since 2014, before which they were televised by the BBC.
Martyn Phillips, the WRU’s chief executive, told The Rugby Paper that the Welsh union is casting the net “far and wide,” including talking to “some of the newer entrants to the market,” adding: “The television market in sport is changing rapidly and we want to be at the forefront of that.”