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EPCR in talks over rugby Club World Cup

FFR president Bernard Laporte, right, and FFR vice-president Serge Simon during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool C match between France and Argentina (by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), organising body of the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments, has indicated it has held talks over a new Club World Cup, but has maintained this will complement, rather than replace, its existing competitions.

EPCR has spoken out after Bernard Laporte, president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), said that he has discussed the idea of an annual Club World Cup that would replace the EPCR showpieces with World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont, Rugby Football Union (RFU) chief executive Bill Sweeney and the French Top 14 clubs.

Laporte, who is running to become Beaumont’s deputy in next month’s World Rugby elections, told French newspaper Midi Olympique that a 20-team Club World Cup could comprise four each from the Top 14, English Premiership and cross-border league the Pro14, six teams from Super Rugby and the champions of Japan’s Top League and America’s Major League Rugby.

“The European Cup is magnificent, I was able to lift the trophy three times with Toulon and I know what it can represent,” Laporte said. “But let’s be frank, it doesn’t generate enough income. I’m sure of one thing: We must create this competition and very quickly. It could be a breath of fresh air for the whole of world rugby. This [coronavirus] crisis must push us to be innovative. Let’s make this new competition, I’m sure that the public and television will follow.”

Commenting on Laporte’s claims, the EPCR said: “Discussions have already taken place on an official level between EPCR and its shareholders regarding a global club tournament which could complement the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup and which could take place once every four years. Work on possible formats is ongoing with a collaborative approach and issues of player welfare to the fore.

“EPCR does not believe it appropriate to highlight such discussions while the public health crisis due to Covid-19 continues, and currently, the organisation’s focus is on attempting to reschedule the knockout stages of the 2019-20 tournaments subject to government and local authority directives.”

The Club World Cup proposal comes amid recent debate over the future makeup of the global rugby union calendar. In June, World Rugby was forced to abandon its plans to create a Nations Championship after failing to gain unanimous support from the sport’s key stakeholders.

Scheduled to launch in 2022, the tournament would have been made up of a top division of 12 teams from the northern and southern hemispheres – the Six Nations and Rugby Championship sides, as well as the United States and Japan – facing each other once over the course of a calendar year, with the two top sides contesting a final.

The project had secured equity support worth £6.1bn (€5.4bn/$7.5bn) over 12 years from sports marketing agency Infront, backed by Hong Kong-based parent company Wanda Sports.