New calendar must respect clubs and unions, says World Rugby chief


London (AFP)

The chief executive of World Rugby believes the sport can at last get to grips with the longstanding problem of a global calendar, just days out from a seemingly key vote.

Brett Gosper remains optimistic, despite a "frank" exchange of views at a meeting of the World Rugby professional game forum last week that broke up without an agreement.

The sport had been in lockdown since March because of the coronavirus until New Zealand's in-house Super Rugby tournament started earlier this month.

But the European season has yet to resume and, with several 2020 Six Nations matches still to take place, elite players face the prospect of a fixture pile-up later in a year blighted by COVID-19.

Both the English Premiership and French league (LNR) voiced their disquiet over what they said was a "fait accompli" during last week's talks.

However, Gosper, speaking ahead of a June 30 vote by World Rugby's council, which may now restrict itself to discussing the remainder of this year's programme, insisted that was not the case.

"Our role is one of facilitating an outcome that is good for all and we are listening and understand the views of all stakeholders," he told AFP from Dublin.

"It is important that the process recognises and supports the needs of both the clubs and the unions."

The 61-year-old Australian insisted a compromise deal was possible.

"While there appear to be some entrenched positions, there is a good understanding of the issues and a commitment to explore possibilities in much greater detail," he said.

- 'Meaningful games' -

Gosper, in the post since 2012, said once there was an agreement covering the rest of this year, officials could then draw up a longer-term plan for re-aligning the calendar.

He hoped that would lead to the November internationals being more than just one-off Tests, without them harming domestic club competitions.

"Once we get some agreement on what the end of this year looks like, there will be deeper consultation to understand how we can achieve a more optimised long-term calendar than we currently have for the benefit of all –- unions and clubs," he said.

"It would be a consultative process.

"There would be more time to evaluate the options and reduce or remove overlaps between club and international competitions, giving a chance to build a narrative with more meaningful games across some form of competition in the November Test window."

Gosper will hope his words will can placate the likes of LNR president Paul Goze, who has threatened to take action against World Rugby.

The Frenchman claims the global governing body want to move the European season to the summer and reduce the number of fixtures, while at the same time expanding the November international window from three weeks to seven.

France's Top 14 has the most expensive television broadcasting deal of any league in the world and the highest salary cap set at 11.3 million euros ($12.7 million) a season.