THE 2019 WORLD Cup kicks off in one year, but already World Rugby is looking well beyond Japan.
The governing body’s CEO, Brett Gosper, says it’s a case of “when rather than if” the World Cup will expand from 20 to 24 teams in the future.
The expansion could even come as soon as the 2023 World Cup in France, although the 2027 tournament may be a more realistic target for World Rugby.
The World Cup looks set to expand in the future. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
Listening with interest to Gosper’s words earlier this month was International Rugby Players [IRP], the association representing the interests of rugby players around the world.
Omar Hassanein, the association’s CEO, says IRP is not strictly against the idea of expanding the World Cup, but its belief is that there are more pressing issues around helping tier two nations to become greater forces in the global game.
“From our perspective, we don’t have too strong a position on whether the World Cup should be 20 or 24 teams,” Hassanein told The42.
“The four teams that will just miss out on the World Cup this time are teams we work closely with and represent anyway.
“The thing for us is that there should be a real emphasis on strengthening the existing tier two nations and getting them up to a point where we’re having a World Cup that has more uncertainty.
“In an ideal world, it would be a lot more difficult to determine who the top eight teams are going to be come World Cup quarter-final time.
“In football, countries like Italy are missing out on the World Cup altogether. That’s something to aspire too, even if we’re a different type of sport.”
The Pacific Island nations of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga are chief among IRP’s thoughts, alongside fellow tier two countries such as the US, Canada, Japan, Georgia and Romania.
Ireland face Fiji’s Cibi before their November Test last year. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
World Rugby provides a major share of the finance for some of those unions’ operating budgets, but there have been troubling issues regarding player payments in certain places.
The Pacific Island nations have ongoing issues with irregular and non-payments to players, German rugby has suffered from funding withdrawals this year, while Canadian rugby is in turmoil due to a contract dispute, with players unhappy about the manner in which its union is attempting to switch its focus from 7s to 15s.
The Kenya 7s team, meanwhile, almost pulled out of the World Sevens Series after its players were not paid salaries and commercial money due to them for a matter of months, despite repeated promises from their union that the issue would be resolved.