Former France and Toulon head coach Bernard Laporte wants to kill off the Heineken Champions Cup and the rest of the European season in order to create a Club World Cup.
Tha plans, which will be outlined to unions across the globe this week ahead of the World Rugby elections in May, call for a 20-club tournament that mirrors the Rugby World Cup, featuring sides from the English Premiership, French Top 14, Pro14 and Super Rugby as well as one club from both the United States and Japan.
Laporte is running alongside World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont in an effort to replace former Argentina international Agustin Pichot as vice-chairman, with Beaumont giving the proposal his full backing, and while the tournament is just an idea at this stage, Laporte made his intentions clear that it is where he sees the future of global club rugby going.
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“The European competition is magnificent, with Toulon (as head coach) I was able to lift the trophy three times and I know what it can represent,” Laporte told French newspaper Midi Olympique.
“But let’s be frank, it does not generate enough income. If we want to develop this Club World Cup, we have to find dates. Without the Champions Cup, nine weekends are available.
“This is only a proposal, but I am sure of one thing: we must create this competition and very quickly. It could be a breath of fresh air for the whole of world rugby.”
The plan comes at a time when rugby union as a sport is facing a crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak. With all professional rugby currently suspended worldwide, clubs face losing significant sums of money that will undoubtedly bankrupt some of them, while unions are also facing difficult times ahead with large losses expected. Last week USA Rugby became the first union to declare itself bankrupt.
As a result, talks are underway between leading union bosses about restructuring the game for the good of the sport, which could finally see a global calendar introduced that is not built based on the interest of individuals but trying to take universal decisions where possible. A lot of those talks will be between northern and southern hemisphere sides who currently do not match up on the calendar, though a Club World Cup could go a long way towards helping those negotiations.
However, any new tournament will need financial backing and support given what Laporte aims to achieve with it, with sponsorship proving hard to come by currently in club rugby that has led to many turning to private equity firm CVC Capital Partners for investment.
“All are excited by such a project,” Laporte added. “The goal of my approach is to find the income that will allow (unions) to finance both the professional and amateur world.
“This crisis must push us to be innovative. Let’s make this new competition. I am sure that the public and television will follow.”
The RFU is expecting to lose up to £50m over the next 18 months because of the coronavirus pandemic and the cost of the Rugby World Cup, while the New Zealand Rugby Union is expecting similar losses of around $50m (£24.1m). Laporte added that he has privately discussed the proposal already with RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney, as well as club bosses in the Top 14.
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