Bill Sweeney believes the concussion debate will be a catalyst in talks over a global season designed to harmonise the calendar and stop players being caught in a tug of war between club and country.
Sweeney, the Rugby Football Union’s chief executive, also revealed that the year-long talks with CVC over the private equity firm taking a stake in the Six Nations had a strategic as well as a financial element because of its involvement with the Premiership and Pro14.
“What has been revealed in the last week adds to the debate about how many matches elite players can manage and how you make sure the balance is right,” Sweeney said. “The welfare issue is providing impetus and players are getting more and more involved in conversations around all topics of the game, such as the global calendar, which is right because they make the game.
“I liked the competitive format of the Autumn Nations Cup and it lies behind a lot of the global calendar thinking. The unions continue to have conversations with clubs and World Rugby about what is the best structure, whether to play the two tour windows in October and November or keep them as they are in the summer and autumn.
“There are two reasons we think private equity coming into the Six Nations is a good thing. We are selling a piece of future revenues to get some capital up front, money that will be invested to grow the game. But equally important is that we think there is a real strategic benefit in having an external party joining that has a stake in club rugby because it would help bring the game together.”
The television deal for the Six Nations is in its final year and Sweeney said Amazon, which had the rights for the autumn series, may be interested in becoming involved from 2022. The advantage of that for the unions is that the tournament would not be hidden behind a paywall.
“Amazon were happy at how the autumn went in terms of targets and what they were looking for,” he said. “I hope it will result in further conversations. There is a balance between wanting to get as much of the market share as possible and making sure the game is available to as many eyeballs as possible, which means terrestrial. The interesting thing about Amazon is because they are not a paywall channel, they are a lot more relaxed about a mix of terrestrial and pay.”
Sweeney has been having talks with the government about how many fans will be allowed into Twickenham for next year’s Six Nations. The RFU will know more in the middle of next month and, if there are no lockdowns then, he hopes for “substantially” more than the 2,000 who watched last Sunday’s autumn final against France.