MARTIN ANAYI, the chief executive of the United Rugby Championship, has played down the chances of the 16-team league playing competitive matches in either Qatar or the USA.
However, following the agreement of a sponsorship deal between the championship and Qatar Airlines, he insisted that pre-season games in the Middle Eastern country could well be on the cards, and that the URC’s European teams would find it beneficial to stop off in Qatar before or after fixtures in South Africa. He also committed himself and his organisation – now officially known as the BKT United Rugby Championship after the Indian tyre company became titular sponsors – to the ambition of starting a new cup competition late next year.
Speaking at the tournament’s season launch yesterday at the Burnham Beeches hotel west of London, Anayi insisted that the facilities available in Qatar could prove invaluable to his organisation’s teams as they travel between Europe and South Africa. “They [Qatar] have got unbelievable facilities through the FIFA World Cup, and one of their big things is legacy and what happens post-World Cup,” he said. “They’ve got world-class medical facilities that we can use for recovery.
“There is no obligation on clubs to use it. It is really important from our point of view that there has got to be a choice. It’s an excellent route, the planes are fantastic, the best in the world. But if players and coaches and teams don’t want to go by Doha, they don’t have to.
“Really, what they’re saying is this is a transport hub for players, coaches and hopefully fans down to South Africa and back. From a high-performance point of view, you can do winter training down there as lots of football teams do, and if there’s ever an opportunity to play exhibition matches we’d be open to doing that.
“It’s very unlikely it’ll be a competitive URC game, but you could imagine pre-season or exhibition games being played there. League matches are really important and quite scarce things for our teams.”
There would be an obvious appeal to the massive United States market if a derby between two of the URC’s four Irish clubs were to be played there. But Anayi was unequivocal in his dismissal of that prospect. “We’ve had opportunities in the past to take games out to the USA and we’ve chosen not to do that,” he said.
When it comes to starting up a cup competition, Anayi admitted that the initial hope had been to involve English clubs as well as the Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Italian and South African teams who make up the BKT URC. At present, however, the expectation is that only the 16 URC sides will participate.
“We’ll probably play at the end of the World Cup, during knockouts,” Anayi added. “That’s what we’re gunning for. Let’s get a cup competition in that window. Everyone seems pretty excited by that.”