World Rugby scraps plans for Nations Championship due to lack of support

Robert Kitson
Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Action Images via Reuters

Global rugby union is braced for fresh turmoil after the governing body announced it had discontinued plans to introduce a Nations Championship for the leading Test nations. World Rugby said it had taken the decision after the proposal failed to gain the unanimous support of key powerbrokers.

Scheduled to launch in 2022, the Nations Championship was intended to revitalise traditional tours with a new tournament in which the top 12 teams from both hemispheres would play each other annually with the two top sides contesting a final. But from the outset more than one Six Nations union was resistant to the prospect of promotion and relegation and leading players also expressed strong reservations.

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There was also uproar when one draft proposal which excluded the Pacific Island nations was leaked, but World Rugby has now conceded the entire project is dead. “Despite strong progress in collaboration with unions, competition owners and international rugby players, including full engagement on the detailed process of financial due diligence, a lack of consensus on key issues, particularly the timing and format of promotion and relegation, left World Rugby with no alternative but to discontinue the project,” read a statement.

It opens up the prospect of other potential investors such as CVC Capital Partners purchasing a stake in existing competitions such as the Six Nations Championship with less wealthy rugby nations excluded. CVC has already made a £500m bid to acquire a 30% holding in the Six Nations which World Rugby was hoping to counter via a “game-changing” deal with Infront, the Swiss-based marketing agency backed by the Hong Kong-based parent company Wanda Sports and run by Philippe Blatter, nephew of the former Fifa president Sepp Blatter.

While the news was not wholly unexpected Sir Bill Beaumont, World Rugby’s chairman, clearly feels a rare opportunity to unite the game’s assorted factions has been missed. “World Rugby undertook this important project with the best interests of the global game at heart in line with our vision to grow the sport as a game for all,” he said.

“While we are naturally disappointed that a unanimous position on the Nations Championship could not be achieved among our unions, we remain fully committed to exploring alternative ways to enhance the meaning, value and opportunity of international rugby for the betterment of all unions.” Beaumont also confirmed that expanding the 2027 Rugby World Cup to 24 teams remained a possibility.