MARTIN ANAYI, the chief executive of the United Rugby Championship, has revealed that plans have begun to launch a women’s tournament alongside the current 16-team men’s league. He admitted that getting such a competition under way would be dependent on the financial backing of the various governing bodies involved, but insisted that the will was there within his own organisation.
“Just over half of our employees are women,” Anayi said. “We had a strategy day the other day and asked everybody what are the top three things you want to see the URC do over the next five years. A women’s competition came in the top three of everybody.
“It feels like we should have a women’s competition. What’s really important here is what our unions are doing, what are their plans, and how can we help generate a better professional environment like they are doing in England with the Allianz Premier 15s.
“We’re trying to work out how we bring that about. Does it need to be 16 teams? Probably not.
“Should we get it going sooner rather than later? Yes, I think we should. I think the women’s game deserves that.
“I think we can pull together a really great competition: that needs to be in conjunction with what unions and clubs would like to achieve, because it’s going to take their funding to bring it to fruition. There’s definitely a will. We’d love to see a women’s URC and we’re just exploring how that comes about.”
Speaking at a media conference held remotely, Anayi also promised to review kick-off times in the current men’s URC, admitting that Saturday evenings, in particular, had proven unpopular in both Scotland and Wales. However, he explained that increasing free-to-air broadcasting of games had been a priority, and said that the broadcasters in question were limited in when they could televise matches.
“Because we’ve got free-to-air broadcasts, there’s a trade-off,” he continued. “They have very fixed times when they can put live rugby on, and that tends to dictate those kick-off times being Friday evening or Saturday evening.
“Kick-off times do need to improve, certainly in Wales but also in Scotland. We listened to some of the feedback from Edinburgh and Glasgow, who said they didn’t want to play all of their games on Saturday evening. So we put some of those into Friday.”
With two rounds of the regular season to go, both Scottish teams are at risk of finishing in the top eight and thus qualifying for the play-offs, but also being denied a place in next season’s Champions Cup because of the guarantee that the winners of each of the four regional pools will get a place in Europe’s premier tournament. As things stand, Scarlets, currently ninth, would be the beneficiaries as winners of the Welsh pool, and Anayi suggested that a repeat of that scenario at the end of next season would bring about change.
“We said after two years if we get into this situation twice, it’s highly likely that we would then revert to a straight top eight going through,” he added.