Rugby Thoughts – Governance of the Game

With the news that the investigation into Aviva Premiership salary cap breaches has been cancelled I thought it was time to talk about the governance of the game. There have been several rugby governance issues that have come up this year across the world so I’ll highlight the ones that I have noticed.

Starting with the most recent one, the Rugby Paper has reported that the Aviva Premiership is cancelling it’s investigation into two teams over salary cap breaches. The obvious first point is that what is the point in having rules if you aren’t going to enforce them? What’s more worrying though is the reasoning behind the cancellation. There are three parts to this; the worry of the reaction from sponsors about bad news, the threat of court action and behind the scenes deals and arguing. Personally I feel that the owners/representatives have got this totally wrong. The experience from the USA is that strong governance that deals with issues is seen as being good by sponsors rather than not dealing with issues. In the NFL the owners know not to go to court with the league as it’s counter productive in the long run to their interests. Finally if the teams can’t agree how the league will move forward amicably then progress for all will always be slow and have teams fighting it.

This isn’t the only league that is having issues running the show. The National Rugby Football League or NRFL in the USA is attempting to set up a professional 15-a-side league. The problem is that they are trying to do it outside of the auspices of USA Rugby the nation governing body for rugby union. This has led to three exhibition games that I’m aware of being aborted. These have included overseas professional teams from Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fans having booked flights and accommodation to go see the games. I believe that the clubs have endeavoured to work with fans to help with compensation. But on the USA side of things clearly this league is starting from a position of conflict with the governing body.

Staying with setting up professional rugby sides, in Japan the plan is to have a Super Rugby Franchise from next season. Whilst the Argentine side has been announcing player signings and has nearly a full squad including many internationals there has been no names provided from Japan. The latest is that there they have signed the required number of players but we don’t know who they are. There have apparently been contingency meetings by SANZAR incase the Japanese franchise fails to materialise. I always had concerns about how the Super Rugby franchise was going to fit in with the existing professional structure in Japan.

Also in Japan there have been issues with organising the Rugby World Cup 2019. The stadium that was slated to be used for the final will not be ready and so alternative plans are having to be put in place. That sounds innocuous enough but hearing that both South Africa and Australia were getting ready to step in as alternative hosts suggests that there is real concern that Japan won’t be ready to host the event.

There have been long standing concerns about the finances of the Australian Rugby Union. Anybody who reads Greg Growden’s column on ESPN Scrum will know his concerns around that organisation.

Finally until recently there have been issues between the Samoan Rugby Union and the players. These have included how the players are treated by the coaching and administrative staff. As well as who pays to travel expenses and even getting paid pre-agreed amounts. Those look to have been put to bed by World Rugby mediating and agreement between the players and Union. But there are still many tier 2 countries without those kind of agreements in place.

Governance of the game is not a sexy subject and I don’t expect the main stream press to pick up on this and push for improvements. I do feel though that it is an area that World Rugby needs to set some standards around and work with stakeholders to improve. One of the problems is World Rugby it’s self though. We often talk about it as an entity in it’s own right but that’s not what it is. It is a collection of unions and regional organisations who have different agendas. Also the voting rights of those groups is different with the “founding” nations having more votes and say than those that have joined later. So will these bodies want to put in place guidelines and best practice that they then have to work to? I hope so as the professional and competent running of the game is needed to take the game forward.

I’m sure this isn’t a definitive list of governance issues but is to give you feel to the range of issues affecting the breadth of the rugby world and why I feel it needs attention.

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