The chairperson of SANZAAR, Brett Impey, resigned on Tuesday calling for the governing body of southern hemisphere rugby to throw open its membership to developing rugby nations worldwide.
Impey proposed a radical overhaul which could see the creation of a bloc to rival the power of the game’s northern hemisphere giants by expanding beyond current members South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia.
THERE ARE OPPORTUNITIES TO DEVELOP THE GAME
The New Zealander said potential candidates could include Japan, Romania, Georgia, the Pacific island nations, as well as countries in the Americas such as Uruguay, Brazil and Canada.
“Outside of Europe, there are opportunities to develop the game, so SANZAAR should be welcoming in those countries as members and creating competitions which are going to allow the likes of Japan and Fiji to progress to the next level,” he told reporters.
Impey unveiled his global vision after announcing he will step down as SANZAAR chairperson on December 31, saying the role had brought conflicts of interest with his other position as New Zealand Rugby chairperson.
SANZAAR was set up in 1996 to manage the Super Rugby club competition and the Test tournament now known as the Rugby Championship but Impey said it was now ‘outdated’.
He said SANZAAR should drop Super Rugby and adopt an international focus, a process that already appears under way as Australia and New Zealand thrash out details of a trans-Tasman competition without the governing body.
Impey said expanding SANZAAR’s international membership would allow it to push more effectively for change on issues such as a unified global calendar and developing tier-two nations.
He has long criticised northern hemisphere nations of stalling meaningful reform to grow the game and conceded his vision for SANZAAR would create a powerful rival grouping.
“I think that puts it in pretty black-and-white terms, but I do think the countries outside Europe need to act as a bloc to see development,” he said.
The plan, which Impey said was supported by NZR and had been discussed at SANZAAR, could see the Rugby Championship expand and new competitions set up for developing nations.
They would include promotion and relegation, allowing giving minnows a pathway to play established rugby powers as they improve.
Impey did not put a time scale on the concept.
SANZAAR’s last major expansion push involved Super Rugby and ended in failure as the competition ballooned to a disjointed 18-team competition spread across 16 time zones.
The governing body was still trying to undo the damage with format changes when the global pandemic halted the five-nation competition earlier this year.
SANZAAR thanked Impey for his work and said it was looking to recruit an independent chairperson, as recommended by the outgoing New Zealander.