Asian Rugby Football Union president and Hong Kong Rugby Union chairman Trevor Gregory says that Asia is not ready to host a Super Rugby franchise when SANZAR plan to expand the tournament in 2016.
Gregory says that no Asian Rugby Union or sponsor is in a position to underwrite the $100 million five-year cost of hosting the Southern Hemisphere competition’s 18th team.
Super Rugby organisers SANZAR announced last month that they will expand Super Rugby from 15 to 18 teams in 2016 and Gregory has already ruled out a bid from Hong Kong.
There are currently five teams from each SANZAR partner – South Africa, Australia and New Zealand – but from 2016 South Africa will get a sixth team and Argentina their first team.
The 18th team will go out to tender and is widely expected to come from Asia although the invitation for tenders is open to anyone interested.
As much as Gregory would love to bring Super Rugby to Asia he says that the sums just don’t add up.
“Can you imagine a union having any liability for a five year contract that could have a $100 million price tag on it? That would bankrupt any union,” Gregory told Reuters.
“I’m stepping down as chairman of Hong Kong in a couple of months, I wouldn’t think that the new board have an appetite to risk the hard-earned money that has taken us 60 years to accumulate on a long shot, which is clearly what it is for us right now.”
Gregory and HKRFU chief executive Vern Reid who was formerly with the Western Force also told Reuters that there was “probably less appetite for Hong Kong in the African conference then there would be if the offer was to be in the Australian and New Zealand conference”.
Reid cited the huge costs involved and said that the Perth-based Force travelled 68,000 kilometres to play in the competition last year.
The former Force boss also said that the Melbourne Rebels spent close to A$22 million ($20.28 million) in their first season after players charged a premium to move to the new franchise.
The international rugby board rankings have Hong Kong as the second highest
“We have had a look at it and knowing the costs, we are not ready to do that,” Reid said on behalf of Hong Kong who are the second highest ranked Asian team on the International Rugby Board rankings.
“We would be better to invest that money in the development of our own players and our own game, so that if another opportunity did arise in the future then we would be better placed to make that decision.”
When the 18 team format was announced New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew said that he expected bids to come from regions such as Asia, North America and Southern Europe.
Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan were thought to be the early favourites to host the new franchise but Hong Kong have already ruled out a bid.
Singapore haven’t ruled bidding for the franchise with help from other franchises but Gregory has questioned whether Japan were interested in bidding.
The Japanese ‘Top League which is backed by massive local corporations has grown into a thriving competition which features some of the rugby world’s best players.
“And for them, that is sacrosanct, they are not going to disrupt their league because that is the jewel in their crown of their domestic rugby,” Gregory said and also pointed to Japan’s economic difficulties and they financial demands that they will face from being hosts of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Gregory noted that there had been silence from Japanese sponsors since SANZAR announced the new expanded format and said that history has shown that finding investment for rugby in Asia is difficult.
“The whole concept of getting a franchise up for the next five years, I don’t want to pour cold water on it, I really feel it’s a bridge too far, he said.
“We have a very small budget for running the whole of Asian rugby which is less than $2 million for 28 countries.
“Having to source the sponsorship for Asian rugby which I have had to do for the last six or seven years, I cannot see the money being available in Asia right now.”