All Blacks legend Sean Fitzpatrick believes rugby in Wales and beyond has to change now to have a future.
Fitzpatrick, who is a board member at the Scarlets and an influential figure in the global game, is demanding fewer international matches and a proper club rugby window that sees all the top stars available for every game.
It comes amid continued frustration in Wales that at least four of the 18 match weekends in the new United Rugby Championship are expected to happen without most international players. Two regional chiefs this week spoke out about the situation, calling for change.
Read more:Being Sean Fitzpatrick, the All Blacks legend now at the heart of Welsh rugby
Fitzpatrick has a simple and stark message, which he expressed in an interview with the Times.
“One thing we’ve learnt through Covid is rugby in this part of the world isn’t sustainable,” he said.
“It has to change. This is not just from a Welsh perspective, it’s from a global perspective. If you have the right partners and a long-term goal then private equity is a good thing.
“Covid has forced our hand to look at other options. They are good options. What we are seeing globally is that the international game is OK, but we need competitions other than international rugby that generate income.
“This is why the club window is so important. We just can’t continue the way we are with our best players being unavailable for a lot of games. We need the best players playing.
“We need to make sure we have a club window with no international games at all, which is going to involve playing fewer internationals. Until we get a club window where we can get all our internationals on the field it’s not an attractive product.”
The private equity Fitzpatrick refers to, of course, is the northern hemisphere’s deal with CVC that gives the company significant stakes in the Six Nations, United Rugby Championship and Gallagher Premiership. Similarly, New Zealand Rugby plan to sell 12.5% of their commercial rights to US company Silver Lake for around £194 million.
The outside investment and clear need for the rugby calendar to be adjusted is set to see big changes in the game over the coming years as it tries to appeal to new audiences and break into new markets.
Fitzpatrick added: “It could be such a good product so something has to change. We need to look at America and China and to be able to connect with those fans; you have to have the right product to engage them.
“I think the competitions might change in the long run. There will definitely be a world club competition. I’m trying to educate people that the All Blacks don’t need to come to Europe every November. We don’t necessarily need to have a world club championship every year, but we need to put a 20-year plan in place and ask ‘What is on the calendar for the next 20 years?’
“Then we can plan. It gives sponsors clarity in terms of what they are doing. Why are the All Blacks so marketable? It’s because they are a good brand.”
Do you think less international matches would be a good thing? Have your say in the comments below.
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