The powers that be at World Rugby should take a bow for heading in the opposite direction to the International Cricket Council by giving the lower tier nations more of a say in how the game is run, rather than less of a say.
Maybe World Rugby has seen a great opportunity following the sports most successful Rugby World Cup in England to take the game to another level, while cricket and Football reel from one crisis to another.
Rugby has in the past been dominated by eight nations, the Home Nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. That has been the case for over 100 years, and twenty years since the game turned professional.
Yet even if they have they are not making it easy to take a place at the Top Table.
The tier two nations will be given a place at the top table in May 2017, however they must meet certain criteria. They must produce five years of unqualified audited accounts and a fully applied constitution; FIFA take note!
In order to have one vote a Union must have played at the last two World Cups as well as have an annual audited investment in Rugby of US$30million over the past four years. They must also have bid or be bidding on a major World Rugby event in the past eight years; Sevens is classified as one such event. They must have a Women’s rugby programme and that team must have played in the Women’s World Cup or at least the qualifiers.
These conditions will restrict the Pacific Island nations. Nations that many supporters of Rugby Union have been insisting that World Rugby invest more money into; yet that could end up seeing the balance of power on the pitch shift dramatically, so was never likely to happen.
Fiji, Samoa and Tonga who have players from their island nations plying their trade in each of the major rugby playing nations look like they are still going to be suppressed.
While it looks on the surface that the “Front Eight” are acting in the interests of the game one has to look a little deeper. Although they are now happy to give the lower tier nations a vote should they meet the exacting criteria, the value of their votes will increase to three! The six regional associations will have their vote doubled to two. As they rely on funding from World Rugby they are likely to always tow the line and vote with the “Front Eight.”
The USA look certain to be a part of the new set-up, who else will meet the criteria is yet to be clear.
At present the Council is made up of 27 men, two each from the eight powerful nations and a man from each of the six regions. A new Executive Committee will be set up comprising of 12 members, including the Chair, Vice-Chair, Chief Executive and nine elected officials, two of them to be independent. This Executive Committee will be advised by the new council which will be made up of a maximum of 20 nations and the six regions.
One does feel that suddenly the game is becoming even more top heavy and what appeared a good thing for the smaller nations is in fact another opportunity for the alickadoos.