Cash comp gets the boot

Sanzar has done the right thing by rejecting a proposed 20/20 pre-season rugby competition, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

Sanzar CEO Steve Tew on Thursday said the ARU, NZRU and Saru had discussed the concept with their Super Rugby teams and the feedback was overwhelmingly negative due to the potential impact on their preparations in 2012. Sanzar is also concerned about the impact on player welfare given the period identified for the competition is the main rest and conditioning period for the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies players.

In the latest issue of SA Rugby magazine, WP senior professional coach Rassie Erasmus and former Stormers commercial manager Frikkie Erasmus explain why the launch of a 20/20 rugby competition would be good for the game. (Interestingly, Rassie said that while they would like to have the backing of Saru and the IRB, they don’t need it.)

According to their proposal, which was leaked to the media in June, the eight-team, two-week tournament (three, if you include the week for preparations) would involve the world’s top 200 players, who’d earn more in that time than they do in a year for their provinces or clubs. The matches, played at Cape Town and Durban’s new World Cup stadiums, would be 20 minutes a half, with the rules tweaked to restrict the amount of kicking and encourage running rugby. The franchises would be privately owned, but most of the money would be generated from sponsorships and broadcast rights.

The Erasmuses claim that the tournament would help to keep South Africa’s top players in the country (and away from big-spending European clubs) as they could supplement their current income. They insist 20/20 rugby wouldn’t contribute to player burnout, as it would take place in January when our Super Rugby sides usually play warm-up matches, and that the game’s simpler rules would attract a new audience that currently finds rugby too difficult to understand.

What they haven’t admitted, though, is that this tournament would be nothing more than a crass money-making venture that makes a mockery of the sport. Apart from boosting the players’ and organisers’ bank balances, what would be the point of it?

In sevens, which will be part of the Olympic Games from 2016, rugby already has an abbreviated version of the game. It doesn’t need another. More importantly, there is already far too much rugby being played (just ask Prof Tim Noakes) so why would we want to increase our players’ workload?

A 20/20 tournament would also disrupt the preparations of our Super 15 franchises (who traditionally play warm-up matches in January to test new combinations and build some momentum), and in case the Erasmuses have forgotten, the regional tournament and Tri-Nations will earn Sanzar $437 million over the next five years.

How would the broadcasters react if players missed the Super 15 because they’d been injured while playing (meaningless) competitive rugby in January? And how could someone like Rassie Erasmus be fully committed to the Stormers if he had other rugby interests taking up his time? Surely his WP employers would consider his involvement in the 20/20 tournament to be a major conflict of interest?

The Erasmuses say this new competition would be rugby’s equivalent of cricket’s Indian Premier League, but IPL matches are often remembered more for the tacky off-field entertainment (cheerleaders, fireworks, loud music, beauty pageants, etc) than for the quality of the cricket. IPL cricketers also care far more about their pay cheques than they do about the franchise badge over their hearts. Is that what rugby wants?

While IPL franchise owners have pumped big money into their teams, would businessmen be willing to do the same for a 20/20 rugby tournament considering their sides would only be in the spotlight for two weeks a year? How long would it be before they demanded an extended tournament, to be played in December and January, that would give their ‘brands’ more exposure? That’s what has happened in the IPL, with next year’s tournament set to expand from eight to 10 teams, and from 60 to 94 matches.

No, rugby definitely does not need an IPL equivalent.

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