Bill Beaumont: Opportunities and Challenges for Rugby Union

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Sir Bill Beaumont has recently been re-elected as chairman of the International Rugby Board. He has been in this position since 2016. Beaumont is a former captain of the England team, where he earned 34 caps. He played for England from 1975-82 and for the British and Irish Lions from 1977-80.

Opportunities and Challenges for Bill Beaumont

Remains Chairman of the International Rugby Board

Beaumont will remain as Chairman of World Rugby – the International Rugby Board. However, there will be challenges for him as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. He will also be Chairman when the game is growing rapidly in many countries around the world. This includes the Americas and Japan. Other issues include the finances and the proposed rugby club world cup.


Challenges – Finances

One of the biggest issues with rugby union is finances. This is what New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey said according to Will Kelleher of The Daily Mail.

“‘While Bill has won and we’ve now got to support the winner, that is on the condition there is fundamental change.” said New Zealand Rugby chairman Brent Impey, who voted for Pichot along with the other SANZAAR unions.

Impey would then talk about Australia as an example. ‘We can’t carry on the way we’re going. Look at the finances of Rugby Australia, for example. If these guys don’t get on and make change, if it’s four more years of the same, we’ll be gone.’

Australia is an extremely competitive sports market. There are several professional sports leagues in Australia, which includes sports like Australian football, cricket, rugby league, soccer and basketball. There has also been a fear that rugby union may go by the wayside in Australia. According to The Rugby Paper, rugby union is the 26th most popular sport in Australia.

According to statistics released by The Business Insider, from 2001-18, rugby union has lost over 63 percent of its players since 2001. These are about younger enthusiasts who play for local teams on a Sunday. Sports like softball and snooker rank higher than rugby union.

Increased Sports Competition; Australia/USA

Also, with Australia having new pro soccer, cricket, and baseball leagues in the 21st century, there is a lot more sports competition in Australia. Lastly, Australia is one of the only countries in the world where rugby league is more popular than rugby union.

This is a problem that most countries outside of places like northern England and southern France do not have to deal with. According to Gavin Cummiskey of The Irish Times, Australia is losing up to €50 million, England €55 million, and New Zealand €66 million.

On top of that, the developing market of North America has taken steps forward yet, is still not on the front foot. USA Rugby has recently announced bankruptcy that will be one issue for that market to overcome.

This will be Bill Beaumont’s most difficult challenge as chairman of the International Rugby Board. However, there is also room for opportunity and growth.

Opportunities – Growing the Game region-by-region

Japan [Asian developing nations]

Japan has been the story of rugby in the past decade. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup, they shocked South Africa in England winning 34-32 in a group stage game.

Then, in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Japan was the story of the tournament defeating both Ireland and Scotland in the group stage. They finished first in the group stage before bowing out to eventual champions South Africa in the quarter finals. Japan are expected to be promoted to tier-1 status because of these results.

A big contributor to this was their pro rugby team, the Sunwolves. They are currently Asia’s team, as they play most of their home games in Tokyo, Japan, although they have also played some home matches in Singapore. According to Ed Dixon of Sports Pro Media, there are plans for a pro rugby union league in Japan. They were planning to start their league in Autumn 2021.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic, the league might be postponed to 2022 according to Kyodo News. Bill Beaumont will most likely be paying a lot of attention to this new pro rugby union league. This is especially true when the Sunwolves have been axed from SANZAAR’s Super Rugby after the 2020 season according to RW Staff of Rugby World.

Americas [Northern might]

In 2015, the Americas got its first-ever pro rugby union team with the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They play in the Super Rugby competition. This competition has teams in the Southern Hemisphere like South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.

PRO Rugby followed in 2016 in the United States but, this version quickly folded after only one year in operation. However, there is now a replacement with Major League Rugby (MLR) which in the 2020 season had 12 teams, including one in Canada.

Major League Rugby (MLR)

MLR started in 2018 with seven pro-US teams. They have since grown into a 12-team league in 2020, including having a Canadian team in Toronto. Fans might have been worried that the league may fold like PRO Rugby, which lasted only one season in the U.S. However, it is so far so good for MLR.

The Seattle Seawolves, the two-time defending MLR champions averaged 3,734 fans per game. This was followed by 2019 MLR Finalists, the San Diego Legions, which averaged 3,043 fans per game. The Glendale (now Colorado) Raptors, Toronto Arrows, and Utah Warriors also have good attendance.

The Raptors averaged 2,463 fans per game while the Utah Warriors average 2,431 fans per game. The Arrows attendance is a bit more complicated as they play in two stadiums. At York Lions Stadium, they average 1,913 fans per game and 2,488 fans at Lamport Stadium. However, it is also important to mention that a team folded in MLR.

Unfortunately, this happens in many pro sports leagues, even established ones. However, the league will still grow by one team in the 2021 MLR season. This is because of the additions of both Dallas and Los Angeles according to Bryan Ray of Americas Rugby. To learn more about MLR read this previous article.

In 2020, the Súper Liga Americana de Rugby (SLAR) had their inaugural season. The league has five professional sports teams in five different countries in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

Súper Liga Americana de Rugby (SLAR)

SLAR had its first-ever season this year. This is South America’s first-ever pro rugby union league.

The league ran parallel to MLR this year. In 2020, MLR was known as “the Northern Conference” while SLAR was known as “the Southern Conference.” This occurred until both leagues cancelled their seasons because of the coronavirus.

With plans for SLAR to be in Colombia, rugby union may be the next hotbed in the Americas. All of these nations (with the exception of Argentina), unlike Japan, have not broken through to possibly becoming a tier-one nation. However, both these leagues are quite new, and the quality of these leagues should improve as years go by.

There is a potential here to grow the game as two leagues have been created and one in Japan seems to be on the way. A good way to grow the game in established and growing rugby union areas is a rugby club world cup.

Opportunities – Rugby Club World Cup

This is something that should be looked at. Rugby league, which only have two professional sports leagues in the world have their World Club Challenge dating back to 1976. The winner of both Betfred Super League and the National Rugby League (NRL) face each other once. The games are one-offs that generally happen in England. Rugby union have a lot more pro sports leagues than rugby league, and hence why this idea should be explored.

French president Bernard Laporte first talked about a Rugby Club World Cup according to Gerard Meagher of The Guardian. Laporte mentioned six teams from Super Rugby, four each from the Premiership, Top 14, and the Pro14, and one each from the U.S and Japan. This is a great format, but it ignores the pro league in South America.

A solution would be a two-legged home-and-away final between the MLR and SARL winners. These matches would determine who would be part of the rugby club world cup. However, a potential con to this tournament according to George Flood of the Evening Standard would mean the Heineken Champions Cup would be scrapped.

However, there are also good reasons why including giving players more rest time. According to Gerard Meagher of The Guardian, this is what Craig said:

“A Club World Cup would allow an immediate redesign of the international calendar, a reform that would clearly separate club rugby from the international game and thus avoid players playing 30 games per season as is the case today.”

Overview of the Challenges and Opportunities for Bill Beaumont

There are certainly challenges for Bill Beaumont. The financial difficulties of rugby union nations will be the most difficult to overcome. Addressing these issues will be most important for Bill Beaumont. However, there is also the opportunity of growing the game of rugby union.

The results that the Japanese rugby union team produced over the years were just one example. Furthermore, the establishment of MLR and SARL in the Americas means that rugby union is growing outside its union strongholds.


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