New Zealand Rugby's move to save sport
NEWS: New Zealand Rugby’s Heartland Championship has been axed for the 2020 season.
The amateur competition acts as the second-tier provincial tournament behind the semi-professional Mitre 10 Cup, but won’t be in action this year due to the imminent financial crisis NZR faces as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the statement by New Zealand Rugby, the cancellations of the Heartland Championship its a move to ‘help secure the future of the sport,’ and to ease financial pressure on NZR.
The Championship sides are Thames Valley, King Country, East Coast, Poverty Bay, Wanganui, Horowhenua-Kapiti, Wairarapa Bush, Buller, West Coast, Mid Canterbury, South Canterbury and North Otago.
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According to Rugbypass, the organisation is already struggling with the significant loss of revenue that has come with the suspension of this year’s Super Rugby in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
That led to reports on Friday that NZR could lose up to $130 million in budgeted revenues this season, which is a similar predicament that both Rugby Australia and England’s Rugby Football Union are currently dealing with.
The drastic move means it will be the first time since 1946 that a New Zealand domestic season will not feature every province, while the last time a provincial campaign was called off was in 1916.
It’s a significant blow to New Zealand’s grassroots rugby, as the Heartland Championship embodies the amateur aspect of the game while allowing players from outside of the nation’s main centres to represent their regions at first-class level.
Some have even used the competition as a pathway to greater honours, with the likes of former All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo and Blues flyhalf Stephen Perofeta shining at that level before going on to play professionally.
The dissolution of the 2020 season adds to a stressful period for NZR, which is enduring a growing rift between the private licensees of Super Rugby franchises and its top-tier Mitre 10 Cup provinces.
NZR Chief Executive Mark Robinson said rugby had worked together to make these difficult decisions for the best interests of the game.
“We’ve worked together and the Provincial Unions have led the decision making. This is a partnership and I acknowledge them for being willing to have these conversations and make tough decisions.
“It’s surreal how much this has impacted everyone in just seven days and we’ve needed to act swiftly, decisively and together. We are united in what we want to achieve and that’s to secure the future of rugby. These decisions have all been about ensuring when the time comes our communities can be up and running club, community and school rugby as quickly as possible.”
Robinson said NZR supported the decision led by the Heartland unions to cancel the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship for the 2020 season.
“It’s a blow for the Heartland Unions to lose their much-loved championships. Their top-level teams are the pride of their communities and it was a courageous decision by them in difficult times. The cancellation in 2020 will be a loss for local players and fans. It will no doubt be felt keenly by many.”