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Johnny Watterson: Biennial World Cups smack of killing the goose that lays the golden egg

In World Rugby’s case they must also look at the physical burden that players face

The vacant off-season. It used to be the time of year players nursed their bodies back to health, emptied their minds of whiteboard strategies, plotted their next lucrative transfer move.

Now the off-season is seen as the idle piece of green belt that doesn’t look right without a multi-storey building on it. If there is a gap fill it. If there is time use it. If it is standing still, make it work.

Fifa and World Rugby's recent contemplations on filling the unforgiving minute with more World Cups, seems in rugby at least, the perfect way to burn down the club system and established international competitions such as Ireland's cash cow, the Six Nations Championship. In the process squeeze more juice out of players.

Since the inaugural men's World Cup tournament arrived in 1987, more than 100 years after the first of the Home Union Championship games in 1883, it has been staged every four years.


The first women’s World Cup took place in 1991 and after a three-year gap until the next tournament in 1994, it has also been held every four years. The latest was set to take place this year in New Zealand but has been delayed until 2022 due to the Covid pandemic.

"Biennial World Cups have been considered before and they're definitely something that we will continue to consider," chief executive of World Rugby Alan Gilpin explained just a week after Fifa announced plans to look into making the football World Cup every two years. Did you get the feeling this was a man-marking job?

Physical stress and its consequences is a pressing issue rugby has yet to face

But in football the pushback from Europe was immediate as Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin confirmed it could launch a boycott by its teams which have dominated the event since Brazil won in 2002.

The over-arching question for both sports is why? Why risk damaging the Six Nations and European club competitions and their sponsorship money by taking the best players out so that they can qualify for and play in a World Cup every other year? The answer has to be the bottom line.

But Uefa can already see how it would damage their flagship event, the European Championships, although 166 of Fifa’s 211 national associations have backed research into the switch.

Rugby will maybe see it the same way, with the stronger European teams asking why they should gather up their traditional structures and place them all on red for a shot at glory every two years.

Rugby also has to ask itself how much is too much and to what extent it could self harm and damage the original World Cup product. The value of the Olympic Games is that the chance to win a medal comes around just once every four years and that makes it more precious. Staging it more frequently would be a devaluation process.

How too will the International Olympic Committee (IOC) react to a greater frequency of World Cup tournaments in rugby or football. Sebastian Coe, an IOC member, has already said self interest is at play, that it would damage summer sports and by extension the event they hold dearest, the Olympics.

Both rugby and football probably took their four-year schedule from the Olympic movement, which started the modern Olympics in 1896. There was good reason for four-year intervals and it wasn’t just the historic reach back to ancient Greece. In 1908, the London Games ran from the April 27th to October 31st.

Lasting a total of 187 days (or six months and four days), they were the longest in modern Olympics history. It was finally fixed at 17 days from Atlanta 1996.

In football, the leagues have already come out strongly against the idea and it’s hard to see rugby not adopting a similar stance for similar reasons. The leagues have said they will work together with other stakeholders to prevent football governing bodies from taking unilateral decisions that will harm the domestic game, which is the foundation of the industry and of great importance to clubs, players and fans.

Physical stress and its consequences is also a pressing issue rugby has yet to face. Last year a new law firm, Ryland Legal Limited, put together by solicitor and director Richard Boardman, set up in London and were in the process of deploying a large legal action against various governing bodies to seek damages for retired players in relation to brain injuries such as early onset dementia, suffered playing rugby. Over 70 former players are involved.

Last weekend a tackle on Chris Cosgrave in Leinster's pre-season game against Harlequins brought the game shuddering to a halt. The fullback was cut down with a high shot from Andre Esterhuizen, the Harlequins centre, who was lucky to only receive a yellow card.

After an extended period on the ground, Cosgrave left the field on a stretcher. He is now in Canada ready to go in the World Rugby Sevens series. Rugby and player welfare are still on a journey and they haven’t yet arrived.

These are the players who will compete in any future biennial World Cup, which in its current format requires six Test matches to reach a final. Those in power now, if not for the protection of current tournaments with long histories then for the players themselves, should be thinking less is more, shouting not on my watch.