Sunday, September 24, 2023

Rugby Australia touts virus success in bid to host ‘mini World Cup’

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Australia wants to take advantage of its wise management of Covid-19 by inviting international rugby teams to play a “mini world cup” during the southern hemisphere winter.

Hamish McLennan, president of Rugby Australia, said the France squad are due to tour Australia in July and that he plans to ask other nations if they will play in a competition that could run alongside the Rugby Championship – a tournament featuring reigning world champions New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa.

He also revealed that Rugby Australia had held exploratory talks with private equity groups to attract more capital into the cash-strapped sport, which has endured a “nightmare” year because of the pandemic.

“We still expect the rugby championship to take place this year, but maybe we can add to it and create a ‘mini world cup’,” McLennan told the Financial Times.

“We have the French [arriving] in July but if anyone else wants to go out, so much the better. Here we have a large British and Irish population and South Africans. We are open to creating a new tournament and maintaining the international calendar. “

Mr McLennan said the European and South African rugby calendars seemed “very sketchy” due to Covid-19 and Australia was a great place for teams to play matches in front of crowds.

He said it was “a fluid situation” but if the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa was canceled in July due to the pandemic, Australia could accommodate the teams in a safe environment.

Australia is one of a small group of countries that deleted the virus by rapidly closing its international borders, imposing lockdowns and continuing contact tracing. This allowed life to return to a semblance of normalcy and international sporting events with spectators to resume.

Despite border restrictions, the Wallabies have hosted Argentina and New Zealand for a rugby tournament, India and Australia play a series of cricket and the Australian Open tennis tournament kicks off next month.

However, Mr McLennan’s proposal to host a mini World Cup would likely meet opposition from rival rugby unions, who hope the vaccines will allow spectator sport to resume, according to rugby analysts.

Mr McLennan, a former media official, is exploring innovative ways to boost Rugby Australia’s finances and grow the sport in the wake of a cash crunch precipitated by Covid-19 and stiff competition from rival sports. Rugby Australia declared a deficit of A $ 9.4 million in 2019.

“He [Covid-19] was a complete nightmare. We cut our staff by about half and took almost A $ 40 million [$31m], about a third of the cost, outside of the organization, ”McLennan said.

He said the virus had accelerated rugby’s need to look at alternative funding mechanisms.

“I have spoken at a high level with CVC, Silver Lake and a few other private equity groups and these have been constructive.”

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Tattarang, the private investment vehicle of Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest, also spoke to Rugby Australia.

Private equity groups are expanding their presence in rugby unions. The Luxembourg-based CVC holds minority stakes in the English Prime Minister’s contests and Pro14 in Europe. Silver Lake is in talks with to acquire a 15 percent stake in the business operations of NZ Rugby, the body that runs the All Blacks.


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