The bad news is that, after the Covid-19 crisis has passed, rugby will most likely not be the same again. The good news is that, after Covid-19, rugby will most likely not be the same again.
Watching SA Rugby scramble to put a plan in place to mitigate Covid-19-related losses (they had the budget cuts figure at between R700 million and R1 billion) last week, one couldn’t help but feel for them because their elaborate calculations are effectively being written in the dark as nobody knows what actual damage the pandemic will wreak.
As tempting as it is to say their estimates are putting the cart before the horse, the one thing none of us can dispute is that the rugby landscape – along with sport in general – will be very different after a year or season that will forever be accompanied by an asterisk.
From early speculation about the Springboks joining the Six Nations, Australia and New Zealand considering their own breakaway competition from Super Rugby to would-be World Rugby chair Agustín Pichot campaigning on a global season ticket, the rugby year thus far has been something of a perfect storm of change brewing.
Covid-19 sweeping through the world, halting competition and therefore raiding the game’s coffers has had the potential effect of forcing the kind of changes rugby wouldn’t have contemplated were they not a financial necessity to make.
The talk coming out of Australasia will probably prompt many of us to tell them “each to their own”.
The main reason for that reaction is less the fact that we’re gatvol of hearing the Aussies and Kiwis saying the competition would be better without their original South African partners than it is that we’ve become fatigued of a tournament that has become progressively bloated and meaningless in the 25 years it has been around.
Forget the memories, but a tournament that began as the Super 12 when rugby went professional had ballooned into an 18-team competition in which deciphering the teams that qualified for the knockout stages initially needed the fans to be amateur actuaries to work it out a few years ago.
Put simply, the ‘super’ in Super Rugby has long been eroded by more teams and more destinations being added to the roster, to the point where half of a typical weekend’s fixtures were not necessary to watch.
So if the virus has forced the Australian and New Zealanders’ hand into finally starting an alternative championship, it’s worth looking at simply because the competition hardly warrants watching in its current form.
Pichot’s choosing a global season as his ticket to World Rugby’s chairpersonship will probably be met with mirth the rugby world over because that concept has floated around for a good 20 years with no success.
Thanks largely to their sponsors’ competing interests, the game’s superpowers – the northern and southern hemisphere teams – have never seen eye to eye when it comes to having one season and having all teams play at the same time, instead of when some are tired at the end of a long year and the others are fresh.
With everyone standing to lose money due to those same competitions being either suspended, postponed or cancelled, maybe the streamlined resources will convince the powers that be to finally consider a streamlined season.
In a way, a narrowing of the focus had already begun with CVC Capital Partners having started an attempt to buy equity in the Six Nations, the Pro14, the English Premiership and SA Rugby.
Regardless of how much money was in the game, CVC would have been keen for the organisations on its books to play in the same competition, so now that there are bound to be less funds, that should be imperative.
As bleak as the game looks at the moment, the reruns and no live rugby on our screens are fertile ground for the game to be re-imagined and run differently.
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