Player’s CEO: “Status quo is not going to grow the game”

By Omar Hassanein

On this day 25 years ago, the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby) met in Paris where they agreed that the game would become “open”.

The ground-breaking decision meant that, after years of “shamateurism”, where players and coaches didn’t receive payments to pay (but in fact many did), they now could be openly paid for their craft and declare themselves professional rugby players. 

That was then and this is now. A quarter of a century on, the professional game has been lucrative for some, opened opportunities to travel, helped build brands and professionalism has brought the game into new regions.

There is, of course, the other side of the coin, with many retired professional players struggling physically, mentally and even financially.

Tournaments such as Super Rugby, once the envy of competition organisers across the world, now faces an uncertain future and the quest to find a future where the club and international game can sit side-by-side is not an easy task. 

Hitting Reset

With the global Covid-19 pandemic giving the sport time to “reset” and with discussions ongoing around the future of the game at both international and club level, episode 19 of the Players Podcast speaks to International Rugby Players CEO, Omar Hassanein. 

Since the lockdown, the Australian has been at the heart of the global season debate along with World Rugby, Six Nations, Sanzaar and others. With a mandate for ensuring players are at the centre of the game, the former Waratahs forward gave his views on what needs to change to get a calendar that works for all. 

“We need to be smart to try to find ways to attract bigger broadcaster audiences and to ensure we fill stadiums through lesser amount of product,” Hassanein told host Eoin McHugh on the Players Podcast. 

“The direction of those (global season discussions) is to put more meaningful matches into the calendar. Matches that count towards a more meritocracy-based system at the end of the year which can attract greater fan and broadcaster interest.”

Hassanein also warned that unions and tournament organisers should think of the bigger picture rather than only thinking about the short-term financial situation. 

“We can’t get greedy. Yeah, everyone in London wants to go to Twickenham to see England play New Zealand as many times as possible, but if we’re not putting emerging nations right in the centre of our plans, then we’re missing a big trick in the longer term. I don’t think we have given that enough consideration to date.”

“Giving emerging nations proper matches against tier one nations, even if it results in somewhat of a commercial hit, is what we have to do to grow our game and bring (Rugby) World Cups to a place where there’s more teams competing (for the knockout stages),” he added.

The Club Game

The international game is, however, dependent on the club game to survive…and vice versa. Hassanein is clear that one can’t work without the other. 

“My personal opinion is that club representatives should be at all meetings and involved in all forums.”

“I think we really need to find a way to work together, harmoniously. We need to get a scenario in place where the clubs get a win, the international games get a win and we have a model which allows for all to benefit.”

“The longer we go on with club interest and international interest non-aligned, the more we do the game a disservice,” said Hassanein.

Check out the Players Podcast on SoundCloud above or on Spotify now! 

Omar Hassanein

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