New Zealand Rugby has rejected the inclusion of the United States in the controversial World League proposal, according to a report.
World Rugby's plans for a World League, as first reported by the Herald, has caused outrage in the rugby community after the concept reportedly excludes Pacific Island nations Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, while including Japan and the US for their commercial value.
But according to a report from The Times, America's involvement in the proposed league was "unanimously rejected" by NZ Rugby and Rugby Australia executives in a conference call with World Rugby.
The US, who played NZ Māori last year, are currently ranked 15th in the world.
The report also added that data from financial analysts showed that the inclusion of the US would not add value to the competition until they were able to compete with the top nations on merit, and that all parties opposed America on non-sporting grounds.
After enduring strong criticism from the rugby community, World Rugby moved to clarify its position on the merits and structure of an annual global competition ahead of key meetings in Dublin next week.
It seems the global body is insisting on promotion/relegation and does not plan to introduce the new test rugby model, should it be agreed upon, until 2022.
"The current rugby broadcast market is complicated, which impairs the overall ability of the game – including players, fans, unions and clubs – to realise its full potential," World Rugby said in a statement. "World Rugby is undertaking this important work on behalf of our unions to secure the long-term growth and stability of the sport in an ever more competitive sports and entertainment environment.
"It is incumbent on World Rugby to champion and represent the whole game, not just the top of the game, and we are committed to working with our union and player representative colleagues to ensure an equitable solution that works for all."
Leading players worried about their welfare and tier two unions fearing they were being excluded have spoken out in the past week about their concerns around the proposed changes to test rugby, prompting further clarification from World Rugby.
"Player welfare is fundamental to our sport. Within the original proposal, players would play a maximum of 13 matches if their team reaches the final, compared to an average of between 12 and 14 test matches presently. Most teams would play 11 matches," the statement added.
"Growing the sport's fan base through more compelling competition is also vital as broadcasters will only pay more for a product that fans want to see. As part of the analysis, market research was conducted in the UK and France and more than 60 per cent of people surveyed, who saw a video of the competition format, said the concept would increase their interest in international rugby, while only four per cent said they would be less interested.
"Contrary to reports, our proposed competition provides opportunities for all teams to compete at the top level on merit, with promotion and relegation. Under this model, the Pacific Islands and all teams outside the current Six Nations and the Rugby Championship would have a potential pathway.
"With the proposed model incorporating competitions that are not owned or run by World Rugby, not all unions are presently in favour of immediate promotion and relegation. We continue to consider the feedback, but remain absolutely committed to an eventual pathway for all.
"Ongoing conversations and stakeholder views have shaped and evolved further elements for discussion, including improvements on player load in November. The next step in this process is a joint meeting of the World Rugby Executive Committee and Professional Game Committee (the bodies overseeing the project), who will be joined by union chairmen and CEOs and player representatives to consider and discuss progress and a way forward that is in the best interest of the whole game.
"Change is always difficult, and nobody expected complex multi-stakeholder discussions to be simple, however for a sport to grow and thrive, it must explore ways to innovate and evolve."
The statement does not, however, clarify how players would be able to deal with the demands of travelling between three different nations for the July tests in the Southern Hemisphere, or playing up to five headline tests in a row.
According to World Rugby, the below competition model was tabled with union CEOs and International Rugby Players in September 2018:
- Nations Championship to debut in 2022.
- The Six Nations, the Rugby Championship and British & Irish Lions completely retained and protected as jewels in the calendar.
- Two-division, merit-based format with promotion and relegation and a potential pathway for all unions.
- Two conferences comprising the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship (where two tier two teams would be immediately added to make six in total).
- Each team plays the other 11 teams once either home or away with points accumulated throughout counting towards a league table.
- Top two teams from each conference would play cross-conference semi-finals, followed by a grand final.
- Running in two of the four years in the World Cup cycle (not running in a World Cup year and truncated version in a Lions year).
- Broadcast rights aggregated and collectively sold, increasing revenue potential. Possibility to centralise some sponsorship rights.
- The competition would provide qualification and seeding for future World Cups.
- World Cup to be enhanced as the pinnacle global event, potentially moving to 24 teams in 2027.