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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

World Rugby considers new franchise-based series to complement World Sevens 

The Dubai Rugby Sevens kicks off the World Sevens Series this weekend.

The new World Sevens Series gets underway with the Dubai Rugby Sevens this weekend. The Series could soon be complemented by a franchise-based, multi-city tournament in the near future as talks continue about expanding the reach of rugby's abridged format. Tom Dulat / Getty Images
The new World Sevens Series gets underway with the Dubai Rugby Sevens this weekend. The Series could soon be complemented by a franchise-based, multi-city tournament in the near future as talks continue about expanding the reach of rugby's abridged format. Tom Dulat / Getty Images

Brett Gosper, the chief executive of World Rugby, says the game’s governing body are considering the potential for a new, franchise-based sevens series.

The Australian administrator said any new league would complement the existing HSBC World Sevens Series, rather than replace it.

He believes there is scope for a secondary competition to the current circuit, which is a 10-leg competition, that kicks off at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens on Friday.

However, he has played down the similarities between the proposed franchise competition and cricket’s lucrative Indian Premier League.

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“Whenever anyone says an ‘IPL-type’ of anything, it conjures up images of huge success, huge crowds, vast sums of money,” Gosper said.

“In this case, we have had a couple of conversations about the potential to complement, and to underpin in many ways, the HSBC Sevens Series, which is and will remain the pinnacle of the annual sport.

“Is there a way that we can complement that by going into some other cities with a different product, but supplementing the economics and salaries of the players on a short period of time, providing more excitement in the sport?

“We are examining that. We are not a long way down the road in those conversations. We have to consult with all of the unions who are providing these players to make sure this is in the players’ interests from a welfare point of view.”

The idea had been discussed about piloting the new series as early as this season. That was deemed unfeasible because there are already two major international tournaments scheduled, independent of the World Series.

South Africa will defend their title at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April, while New Zealand will do the same in the World Cup Sevens in San Francisco in July.

“Maybe beyond that, this is something that could happen, depending on where the investors decide they want to put their money, because the investment would come from third-party, not from World Rugby,” Gosper said.

“We may contribute, we may not, but it would be third-party money, which increasingly is helping grow the sport around the world.”

Alisports, the sports arm of the Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, announced plans last year to invest $100 million (Dh367m) to popularise the game in China.

In Australia, a mining magnate is exploring the possibility of funding a new “Indo-Pacific” league, after Perth’s Western Force lost their Super Rugby status.

Meanwhile, in the sevens game, an independently-run competition that has themes broadly-similar to the city-based, franchise idea being discussed by World Rugby, is set for launch in 2018 in the United States.

Crucially, Super Sevens Rugby, the US competition, will morph the current playing format, extending the game, and expanding the playing squad.

Gosper appreciates the value of third-party initiatives. However, he is unsure on the merits of altering the current playing conditions of sevens, in which 12-player squads compete in matches comprising two, seven-minute halves.

“There has been experimentation in the States, I’m not sure how successful that has been,” Gosper said. “USA Sevens has experimented with something called Super Sevens, which is four quarters, with revolving subs – a full game, but with replenished subs.

“Is it creating interest we have not seen? I’m not sure. They are confident they can create something with that, but we are focused on the version of sevens that we see on the HSBC Series and at the Olympics.

“We believe that should be the focus, and it is our focus, certainly, in terms of the grassroots through to the elite part of the game that we see here in Dubai.”