Dubai: Former Scotland captain Gavin Hastings has suggested scrapping the World Rugby Sevens Series and converting it into an Indian Premier League-style tournament where participating host cities own franchise teams.
At present 15 core nations play 10 events across 10 global cities in a seven-month series, which this year starts in Dubai from December 1-2.
Hastings’ proposal — made to press on the sidelines of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens Long Lunch at the Crowne Plaza in Dubai’s Festival City on Thursday — was to keep these variables but replace national teams with cities.
“Imagine if Dubai, Sydney, London, Paris and Las Vegas … each of these cities is a franchise in its own right, so you don’t play international sides but you play the other franchises, like Dubai taking on Cape Town or Sydney,” said the 55-year-old, who scored 667 points for Scotland over 61 appearances between 1986 and 1995.
“Whoever owns the Dubai franchise, for example, can sign up whoever they want from the global market with a restriction perhaps on how many players you can have from each country, say three Fijians per team, etc.
“I genuinely think some local entrepreneur or expat businessman will say to hell with that, I’m having my own Dubai Sevens side and I’m going to get the best players and be the best. Do away with the World Series, have an IPL-style tournament and travel around all cities.
“I think that’s the way forward,” he said in terms of developing the game. “Because at the moment what has it [the series] brought to Dubai and what are they [rugby] getting from the local economy here?
“Imagine all the locals cheering for the Dubai franchise, it would be amazing, and all the guys who play for Dubai — based here for six months of a year — could go out into local schools and help grow the game in this country.
“This way each city gets their own tournament so all sponsorship for this leg is theirs. You know when you host your tournament — there may be a global TV deal that all owners are party to — but otherwise you keep all ticket money, so it’s entirely incumbent on each owner to make it the biggest and best event they can.”
Hastings said the current format wasn’t working financially.
“The Samoans for example can barely afford to bring a sevens side out because there’s no money in Samoa, but this way, players can become professional pro sevens players on three-year contracts with their franchise city and then go off and play for their national team.”
More players from each country would also get more playing time and more opportunity to land pro contracts.
“Suppose there’s 30 Samoans, two per team, and 16 teams, playing regularly in the squad, that’s more than currently there — then there’s no (financial) burden on the Samoan national team. And players can make a career out of playing sevens.”
This makes sense given that the current situation is forcing sevens players from the likes of Fiji and Samoa to leave the shorter format and turn their back on their countries to win lucrative 15s club contracts in France or similar.
National teams would still come together for the sevens World Cup, Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games added Hastings, who said to have a World Series as well was just overkill.
“It’s an anomaly isn’t it,” he said of having the World Cup as well as a World Series and an Olympics. “You don’t need a World Series.”
The worry is that like a West Indies situation in cricket, players from the likes of Fiji and Samoa would become more driven by the money from an IPL-style league, and turn their back on their national team completely.
“My feeling is they’d still go back to their countries for a World Cup or Olympics — it’s still key to them, but it’s an interesting point.”