A radical proposal for an annual Club World Cup is part of a plan to overhaul rugby’s global calendar, which could also bring about the revival of the abandoned Nations Championship plan.
The proposal for a tournament featuring 20 club teams from around the world will be put to leading unions this week by the French federation president, Bernard Laporte, who is set to be appointed Bill Beaumont’s vice-chairman in next month’s World Rugby elections.
Laporte has said the European Champions Cup would be cancelled to accommodate the new competition, which he believes would be more lucrative at a time when clubs and unions continue to feel the financial hit of the coronavirus pandemic.
Laporte’s proposal, detailed in an interview with the French newspaper Midi Olympique, has been met with a mixed response in the Premiership. The plan is for the competition to be held every year – except when the World Cup is being staged – but within the Premiership there is a feeling it should be every four years, that the Champions Cup should not be sacrificed and that the new tournament should be run by the clubs rather than World Rugby.
The Bath chairman, Bruce Craig, said: “This project is a club competition, not an international tournament and must therefore be piloted by the clubs; it should not be placed under the aegis of World Rugby. Whatever happens in the coming months, club rugby must remain managed by the clubs, it is non-negotiable.”
According to one well-placed source World Rugby believe the competition is a way to better realign the international calendars in the north and south hemispheres. World Rugby sees the international game as the No 1 priority when rugby resumes given its capacity to drive revenues and a Club World Cup could lay the foundation for a new-look Test tournament.
Last year plans for the Nations Championship – a proposed 12-team international tournament – were abandoned but Laporte was known to be in favour of it and was instrumental in gaining support from other Six Nations countries, including England. Ultimately, the plan, which came with an offer of more than £5bn for the competing countries, was axed with the Six Nations unable to agree unanimously to the introduction of promotion and relegation.
The Six Nations has since entered into discussions over a lucrative deal with CVC but with unions set to lose tens of millions of pounds owing to the coronavirus pandemic there is a suggestion a plan for an annual international tournament involving both hemispheres could come back on to the table.
Craig said: “A Club World Cup would allow an immediate redesign of the international calendar, a reform that would clearly separate club rugby from the international game and thus avoid players playing 30 games per season as is the case today.”
That Laporte has suggested the involvement of one team each from the US and Japan – as well as four from the Premiership, the Top 14, the Pro14 and six from Super Rugby – is also considered significant. “This crisis must push us to be innovative. Let’s make this new competition, I am sure the public, partners and televisions will follow,” Laporte told Midi Olympique.
“Faced with today’s threats, we must move the lines, multiply aid and imagine what will be the rugby of tomorrow. This is why, for several weeks, I have been working with Bill Beaumont on the restructuring of the international calendar in order to standardise the windows reserved for national teams. And, in fact, create a new window dedicated to clubs.”