Mark McCafferty, the former chief executive of Premiership Rugby, believes the agreement for a new Club World Cup could be signed in October and launched in 2024 as part of a radical shake-up of the sport globally.
The new club competition would be staged before the planned introduction of a new Nations Championship based on the July and November international windows involving all the major playing countries in different conferences. While McCafferty is hoping to debut the club competition – to take place every four years – in 2024, the Nations Championship is now penciled in to start in 2026.
McCafferty stepped down as Premiership Rugby CEO after 14 years in 2019 and is currently a Director of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) who runs the Heineken Champions Cup. He is also an advisor to CVC Capital Partners, the private equity company, which has bought a share of the Six Nations and leading European leagues.
McCafferty charged Rugby Pass: “If it stays on track then by October/November we could have agreement. There are certain points in a sports’ development where you have to seize the moment and there is a growing feeling that if rugby can deliver on the global stage a new international competition – Nations Championship – combining the July and November tests windows and a new Club World Cup using existing weeks in the calendar then it is good for everyone.
“It is not adding a new competition it is enhancing existing competitions once every four years. We are giving players and fans the opportunity to see who is the best club in the world with the chance for say Toulouse to face the Crusaders or Brumbies taking on Saracens. I think it is very appetizing and that’s the response we have had.
“Now, we have to make all the numbers work and those are the ongoing discussions. The starting point depends on a number of things and the date for the Nations competition is looking like 2026 and so for the club competition it could be 2024 or 2025. We have to make sure we give ourselves enough time and that is part of the current discussions with Super Rugby.
“Super Rugby have some challenges in locking down the new Super Rugby Pacific tournament for post-2023 and there are local issues to be sorted. We have lined up the calendar and the International Players Association have been involved and are happy with it and while there is still a lot of detail to be finalized the direction of travel is promising. But, these things till take a lot of nailing down.”
The emergence of CVC as a major financial player in rugby has raised concerns that they will have undue influence over the future of the sport as they search for a return on the hundreds of millions already invested. McCafferty denies this is the case and said: “CVC are supportive of the club competition, but the primary driving force comes from EPCR and Super Rugby Pacific. Clearly they (CVC) are a big share holder (in rugby) but they don’t approach things by calling the shots and I do a lot of work with them.
“They want rugby to be ambitious and have more global platforms and that is in their interest. We also have 40 clubs across Europe plus 12 in Super Rugby – that is 52 clubs – who would have the opportunity to qualify into this competition once every four years before thinking about expansion into new markets. If now you have a domestic and European/Asia-Pacific platform but add a global one then it is interesting.
“There is an underlying principle that the existing primary partners in the Champions Cup and Super Rugby – both TV and title – would have rights in the new competition. From their point of view they would have rights that carry through into the Club World Cup. We are not selling at that level because we want to honor those contracts and we would probably add to it at a secondary level. That was one of the key commercial principles and we are trying to enhance the Champions Cup and Super Rugby Pacific and make them even more valuable. We are adding not substituting.”
McCafferty has been at the heart of the drive for a world club competition and is confident the playing seasons of the two Hemispheres now allow it to happen and confirmed the Japanese club champions would be taking part. “I don’t know if you can describe it as my baby but I am certainly doing a lot of work to try and bring an agreement together. It needs a bit of driving force behind it to say the very least and that is what I have been doing for some time. My first paper to World Rugby about it was some time ago and it has been a while being nurtured. The time may well be right to do it now as things are coming together.
“The first element goes back to the World Rugby global calendar conference in San Francisco which took place in 2017 and one of the main things that came out of that was to move the international window into July from June.
“That was a key staging post. A couple of years later, before COVID, we reached the conclusion we could not add any more weeks into the rugby calendar and so the only way to consider this was to say that once every four years we would combine the existing knock out stages of the Champions Cup and Super Rugby. That was the other breakthrough.
“The building blocks were then in place and now it is about fine tuning. The hope and expectation is that we can see the launch of two new competitions while using existing weeks in the calendar.”
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