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Enjoy the World Cup because it's now under threat on many fronts

Thinking time: World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont
Thinking time: World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont

By RuaidhriO'Connor

On the eve of the World Cup's big kick-off in Tokyo, World Rugby held a launch press conference which featured five middle-aged men who had helped put the tournament together over the past decade.

Of the quintet, only the governing body's chairman Bill Beaumont is a household name.

The opening addresses were lengthy and upbeat, focusing on visitor numbers and the long-term benefit for the sport in Japan, but once the floor was open for questions the tone shifted.

The growing creep of private money was addressed, while the gap between the tier one and tier two nations was raised. In the wake of Aphiwe Dyianti's failed drugs test, doping was another topic for discussion and player welfare and refereeing were also brought up.

The blazers on the top table dealt with the queries as best they could, but as events on the field of play in the first week gave evidence to the problems in the sport, there is reason to wonder if the World Cup is too big to fail.

First, a private equity firm is slowly taking control of the most powerful bloc in European rugby.

Investment firm CVC Capital has taken a majority stake in Premiership Rugby, is close to a large minority stake in the Guin­ness PRO14 and most importantly a 15 per cent chunk of the Six Nations' commercial rights.

CVC could be eyeing some sort of global competition of its own and, given money talks, it might not find too much resistance.

Already, CVC looks set to get Six Nations relegation on the table, which brings us to the plight of the second tier countries.

The lesser lights are once again trying to catch up to a bullet train. But the closed shop nature of the tier one competitions, scheduling of the World Cup in club season and the residency laws are among the reasons why it's so tough to bridge the divide.

The World Cup opens rugby to a wider audience and indications before the tournament were that there would be a zero-tolerance approach to head-high shots. But referees have largely ignored that, opting to hide behind citing commissioners.

But all of that pales in significance to arguably the greatest threat to the World Cup and all global tournaments. The climate crisis is consistently on the front pages here and one wonders how sustainable events that require the mass movement of people by air travel will be in the future.

Perhaps that's the biggest long-term concern, one that will eventually occupy all sporting bodies, but for now World Rugby has much to consider.

Belfast Telegraph


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