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Postponing Rugby World Cup 2021 New Zealand Is the Correct Decision

Photo Credit: World Rugby

There are many reasons to postpone this event.  Given the nature of the COVID-19 Pandemic globally we have seen governments across the world react quite differently and across the spectrum.  If you look at the US specifically, even individual State governments act differently.  The Differences even go down to the county and municipality level.  

Postponing the tournament, like with the Olympics comes with several considerations and reasons.  One of the first in my mind has been the economic reasons and the costs of operating the Rugby World Cup and the drastic differences between the Men's and Women's tournaments. Financially, for a Union, there has been limited returns since the tournament came under the control of the IRB now World Rugby. 

 For a significant period of time Women's Rugby was run independently from the Men's game.  In fact several countries had wholly independent Women's Rugby Federations.  Notably for the US, the women had to get permission from the USARFU to adopt the Eagles moniker and crest in the first Rugby World Cup.  So it's been a long journey.  

Perhaps this writer is being cynical, but I have a hard time believing that New Zealand Rugby, the government of New Zealand, and World Rugby have any willingness to fund the costs of a bubble for 11 additional teams.  Would World Rugby help facilitate by funding bubbles that need to occur for the remaining qualifiers to take place for the field to be set in time.  The answer seems to be no by postponing the tournament it also postpones those qualifying matches. 

The 2017 edition saw an attendance total of 45,412. This was billed as the most successful women's tournament ever.  The Campus Model that World Rugby has used for the Women's tournament was meant to drive down costs for the host nation.  

Although I personally believe that World Rugby made the decision here mostly because of financial considerations, as is often the case with many things that have driven decisions.  Take a look at the whole "World League" concept.  The real considerations for me are about competition. 

There has been discussion in multiple publications about the fact that over 60% of the competitive field is amateur.  I'm pretty sure that it's closer to 80%.  The only leagues where there are currently any professional contract for Women's Rugby players are in England and France with the Allianz Premier XVs and France Elite 1 Competitions. 

The US has been lucky enough to send a handful of players to play in the Allianz Premier XVs this season.  Canada has players in both the Allianz Premier XVs and France Elite 1.  But the situation for the US and Canada is pretty similar for much of the field.  The Majority of the US Squad hasn't seen competitive club season since the Autumn of 2019. Same can be said for much of the world's qualified teams for this world cup and also those who are still vying for qualification.  THIS is the important part for me.  The US was preparing to enter a long camp in preparation for New Zealand, the majority of that squad would come into the camp pretty cold.  They would have maybe played one or two matches with their clubs if they were lucky.  

But now, by postponing the tournament, the competitive balance of the tournament will return.  The professional squads of England, France, and New Zealand will have to face teams that will have played footy.  Whereas if we continued to New Zealand this coming fall it's likely that very few of the squads involved would have played a significant amount of Rugby ahead of the tournament.  That is not a showcase or celebration of the sport.  And that's what matters.  The Rugby World Cup is the pinnacle of the sport for both Men and Women.  There is no greater honor for an athlete than to put on the jersey of their country.  

And although I think the financial considerations were higher in the decision matrix to postpone this event, the competitive considerations are the most important to me.  A World Cup should be a spectacle, and by postponing it to 2022, it at least has a chance to be one.  

~Aaron Castro
Go Eagles