World Rugby still hopeful of global calendar realignment

World Rugby remains hopeful of achieving global calendar change for 2021 after a meeting of key stakeholders took place on Monday.

Representatives from national Unions, professional clubs and club competitions were all part of a digital conference that discussed how both Test and club rugby competitions might return later in the year, but also investigated the removal of the July Test window as part of a new global calendar.

If World Rugby gets its way, the July window would move to October from 2021 allowing for back-to-back months of Test rugby and, potentially, some form of the Nations Championship proposal that was voted down in 2019.

The more immediate focus, however, is finding a workable solution to the club and Test competitions that were suspended in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Whilst not a decision-making forum, today's World Rugby Professional Game Forum provided the initial platform for national unions, international and professional club competitions and players to exchange frank views and consider immediate and long-term calendar reform in line with the guiding core principles of recognising the needs of the international and domestic game and enhancing player welfare," a World Rugby statement read.

"With the global COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacting the 2020 rugby calendar and union and club finances, all parties recognised the need to agree a compromise solution that enables both disrupted professional club and international competitions to be completed this year.

"In the absence of full alignment, further information sharing and discussion will be undertaken with all parties regarding the viability of proposed adjustments to the 2020 international release weekends stipulated in Regulation 9 that will enable postponed and other international matches to be played in an adjusted window from October, whilst enabling the completion of existing club competitions. The final decision on 2020 will be confirmed by vote of the World Rugby Council on 30 June following consideration and recommendation by the World Rugby Executive Committee."

While professional rugby returned at the weekend when New Zealand's Super Rugby Aotearoa launched, and Australia set to begin its own Super Rugby AU competition early next month, The Rugby Championship and the suspended northern hemisphere club seasons and the Six Nations are still to be either completed or be slotted into a new timeframe.

Just whether World Rugby can get all parties on board to move the July window from 2021, however, remains to be seen.

Moving the Test window, which was only shifted to July from June this year, would require the realignment of several other competitions, including several club tournaments whose officials have long resisted dramatic changes in the global rugby calendar.

"There was also commitment to further detailed commercial and player welfare modelling in full collaboration with the club game to better assess the viability and attractiveness, for all parties, of a potential new ongoing global release period of October/November from 2021, replacing the July window," the statement said of the July Test window.

"All stakeholders believe that meaningful reform of the international calendar is necessary in a much-changed post COVID-19 environment to revitalise the global game and deliver much-needed alignment between international and club rugby with fewer overlaps and enhanced player rest periods.

"Crucially, if managed appropriately, the proposed long-term calendar reform will enable meaningful pathways for emerging nations on a global and regional scale and the development of a global international women's competition model with defined windows that do not overlap with the men's competitions."