COMMENT

The one thing missing in the ongoing debate about the proposed World League is any denial that the story broken by the Herald last week is true.

The closest World Rugby have come to denying that they were secretly trying to sell a test rugby concept that protected only the commercially elite, is to say that the initial report and subsequent comments made by the world's leading players contained some inaccuracies.

It's not entirely clear what exactly these supposed inaccuracies are but it's possible by piecing together the various comments made by World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper and deputy chairman Gus Pichot in the last few days to see that they, and every other executive complicit in this secret sell off, is spinning the truth to suit their own needs.

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Having been caught red-handed with their fingers in the till as it were, the last few days have been about scrambling an alternative truth to suggest that the 12-team format that includes the USA and Japan joining the Rugby Championship in 2020 is just one of many concepts being considered.

Gosper, Pichot, World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont and New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew have all said that a deal remains some way off and everyone has insisted that there is a pathway for the emerging Tier Two nations to join the elite.

No one should be deceived, though, by the back-tracking and determination to paint a different picture.

What's undisputed is that senior World Rugby officials met the chairman and chief executive of the International Rugby Players' Association last week and told them that plans were being fast-tracked to sign off on the 12-team format by the middle of the month.

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper. Photo / Getty
World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper. Photo / Getty

The concept has already found a financial backer making it hard to believe that a deal is some way off being agreed or that the door remains open to Fiji, currently ranked ninth in the world, to be included.

The Fijians have been invited to attend the next World League meeting having been excluded from the last one in February.

But that is more about being seen to do the right thing rather than having a genuine intention to include them in the World League.

Gosper, in an attempt to quell fears that the USA and Japan are locked in, said over the weekend that two more teams – Six Nations and current Rugby Championship sides are guaranteed inclusion – will be added to the World League on a merit basis.

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Three things worth noting about this. Firstly these new inclusions will have to join the Rugby Championship, hence it will be Sanzaar's decision to make.

Secondly, Sanzaar has been creative in the past in how it interprets merit-based inclusion which is why Super Rugby has injected hopeless but commercially strong new teams over the last decade.

And thirdly it doesn't take a genius to work out that a competition that includes the USA and Japan is going to generate a far bigger audience than one that includes Fiji and hence that will significantly affect the value of any broadcast deal.

Never before has any executive voted to do the 'right thing' ahead of taking the money and given the cash-strapped nature of South Africa and Australia, are they really going to go into bat for the Pacific Islands?

Fiji celebrate their victory over France last year. Photo / Photosport
Fiji celebrate their victory over France last year. Photo / Photosport

Attempts to refute the players' concerns about increased travel and volume of games, have been equally ineffective.

Gosper tweeted some nonsense about a 'fallow period' being introduced where 10 of the 12 teams would stop playing. That sounds awfully like World Rugby might try to sell the last weekend of the competition when only two teams are left as a 'fallow period'.

He also said that only the two teams that make the final will have to play five consecutive tests and 13 in total as if that in itself makes the players' concerns about their welfare invalid.

As for the insistence that any deal has to provide a legitimate pathway for Tier Two nations to emerge, that remains the area where the facts are being most actively manipulated.

Gosper continues to say that the World League is in fact a 24-team proposal with plans for a second tier. Yet no one has seen any detail about this second tier competition.

And they haven't seen it because there is nothing to see. World Rugby wants to get the money in the bank for the World League and then work out what to do with the second tier.

Which is also why there is no agreement or likely to be about a promotion/relegation mechanism.

Even if the Six Nations agreed to promotion/relegation – which they haven't – what exactly would the relegated team be dropping into?

And more importantly how would it work if Italy were relegated and Fiji promoted?

Would Fiji have to join the Six Nations or will there be a contrived geographical agreement where the highest ranked second tier team from the Northern Hemisphere replaces the lowest ranked and ditto in the Southern Hemisphere.

Super Rugby lost its credibility and integrity when teams with more competition points missed out on home play-off games and it would be equally damaging if, say, Japan finish ninth overall but have to be relegated as the lowest ranked Rugby Championship team.

There has been no denial of the Herald story last week because a 12-team league for the commercially elite with no promotion or relegation is precisely what World Rugby was hoping to secretly sell to the highest bidder.