2015 World Cup Schedule: 5 False Facts
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When the International Rugby Board (IRB) released their schedule for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, they did so adamant that all of the previous inequity issues—which I related in my last column—had been addressed.
No one disputes that the planning of a match schedule for one of the world's largest sporting events is fraught with difficulty and that such planning must certainly take into account a variety of priorities, including media and commercial considerations.
If the IRB leadership had adopted a more cautious tone and pointed to some of the small incremental strides that have been made, most of the world rugby community would have graciously accepted their explanation. Many already have.
However, the release of the 2015 match schedule was accompanied by proclamations of such iron clad certainty that one would think all of the issues of equity and fairness that have long plagued past world cups have been eradicated.
They have not—not by a long shot.
Sadly, despite the misgivings of myself and many others, IRB Chief Executive Mr. Brett Gosper doubled down on his statements the next day when he spoke about the schedule via a video release from the IRB Media offices.
Unfortunately for Mr. Gosper, many of the statements he has made of over the past few days are open to debate and many others are blatantly false.
So, here in this Bleacher Report exclusive countdown, we shall endeavour to correct the record.
We will begin with Mr. Gosper's initial comments, made days prior to the World Cup schedule's release.
Fact: The Number Of Rest Days Is Not Equal
The World Cup continues to be an uphill fight for developing nations.
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Mr. Gosper went public to herald the coming of his schedule a couple weeks ago in a well attended press conference. Soon after, the following comments appeared in The Scotsman:
“We think, in the next World Cup schedule that will be announced very soon, there is a very strong fairness in terms of the times of rest periods. It will be the same for all teams. Completely equal [emphasis added].”
Rest periods, especially equality in the rest periods, has been an increasing concern at world cups, as modern sports science continues to help return athletes to peak performance at faster rates.
At the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the number of rest and recovery days will vary between teams; from a high of 19 days to a low of 14. Surely, no reasonable rugby observer could fault the tournament for small differences over a round-robin pool stage that lasts almost a month; however, a difference of five rest days between teams competing against each other represents nothing close to "complete" equality.
What is worse is that many teams with 14 rest days must compete in the same pool against stronger opponents who, by the later stages of the tournament, will have accumulated a significant advantage in terms of recovery time.
Fact: Short Turnarounds Have Not Turned Around
Mr. Gosper (left) believes rugby's equality gap is now closed.
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In the same article in The Scotsman, Mr. Gosper is quoted as claiming that the changes he and his IRB associates have made to the tournament schedule fixed not only the number of rest days but the timing of the so-called "short turnarounds"—windows where a team must play two games in a brief time-span.
Complaints on this issue stemmed from that fact that, at previous World Cups, the timing of such windows seemed to strongly benefit established first-tier rugby nations at the expense of smaller countries, who were less able to cope with the stresses.
"There’s a very strong fairness in terms of the times of rest periods. So it’ll be the same for all teams, far more equal. Completely equal versus the last World Cup."
Mr. Gosper's claims to having "completely" addressed this issue center around his contention that short turnarounds have been distributed equally, and therefore they will give no team a clear advantage.
One does not have to look long at the tournament schedule to see that such contentions are full of holes.
Take Pool D for example, which is made up of three established rugby powers from Ireland, France and Italy, as well as two developing nations from North America and Europe.
Ireland, France and Italy all have 19 rest days compared to 15 for the European qualifier and 14 for the North Americans.
Furthermore, neither Ireland nor Italy have a rest period shorter than six days, while both of the developing nations in their pool have multiple short turnarounds of 4 days or less.
Even if such a difference in recovery time were in place for one match, it would still place a team at a significant disadvantage. Having multiple such cases for any team within a round-robin tournament must surely prove Mr. Gosper and the IRB have not lived up to their promises.
Fact: Nine Is The New Eight
Mr. Gosper has doubled down on arguments that should raise more than eyebrows.
Following initial reaction to the release of the schedule, Mr. Gosper took to the airwaves through an IRB Media video release (included above), and continued to make the case that all issues around the Rugby World Cup fixture list had been resolved.
He opened those segments of his comments by stating, what he clearly believed, was the range in the number of rest days that should be be present in his revised 2015 schedule.
The minimum rest time for a world cup, normally for a game—or between games—is three days. The maximum is eight days.
If Mr. Gosper had read his own schedule closely, he might have discovered that there are indeed those who will benefit from more than eight days of rest between games, as France's schedule clearly illustrates.
Perhaps these are more like guidelines than actual rules.
Fact: A Weighted Scale Is Not "Balanced"
Those responsible for another failed schedule have much to answer for.
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This is a big one!
Mr. Gosper's contention in the video release is that he and his associates at the IRB have not only equalized the number of rest days between Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations but that the short turnaround periods were both limited and equally apportioned.
What we've tried to do is ensure that there is no disparity in the rest days of Tier 1 countries and Tier 2 countries. In the past, the Tier 2 countries have tended to have more frequent short rest periods, which has not been favourable to their performance.
This time, there will be just five [emphasis added] occasions of a three day rest period for Tier 1 and for Tier 2. So, [its] not ideal for either but [is] completely balanced in terms of how that's apportioned.
Tier 1 and Tier 2—balanced rest days.
Well, first off, five short turnaround rest periods cannot possibly be equally apportioned, but we'll put that aside for a minute. At first glance, it really does appear that the IRB has, for once, distributed some limited amount of pain amongst the Tier 1 countries.
Rugby powers like New Zealand, Australia and France all have short three-day turnarounds, while the unfortunate nations from Tier 2 who must struggle with short rest breaks will come from Europe and Africa.
So has Mr. Gosper kept his word?
When one examines these contentions it quickly becomes clear that there is nothing fair nor balanced about how these short turnaround windows have been managed.
In Pool D, for example, the second qualifier from Europe will play France on September 23, only to turnaround after three days rest and face the might of Ireland on the 27th of the same month. They will face an Irish team that will have been recovering for an entire week.
At the very end of the tournament, when all teams are struggling to find healthy players, the hard-pressed African qualifier will have to play Argentina on three days rest. The Argentinians will have had double that amount of recovery time.
The very notion that such contests are worthy of World Cup class competition is preposterous on its face.
These shocking matchups might be said to fall into the category of unfortunate scheduling necessities, except that the Tier 1 nations experience no such difficulties with their own short turnarounds.
When one looks at the supposed strain being placed on the Tier 1 nations who were assigned short turnaround windows, it is inevitably the case that they have been matched against the weakest possible opposition.
Coming off of their respective three-day turnarounds, France will face Europe's second qualifier, Australia will take on the tournament's final re-passage entry and the All Blacks will face the qualifier from Africa.
So, while it makes a very good talking point to highlight the short turnarounds being experienced by Tier 1 countries, in practice the schedule remains overwhelmingly constructed in their favour.
Mr. Gosper's final line, stating that Tier 1 and Tier 2 nations have balanced rest days, does not even pass the basic sniff test, which is what we cover in our final fact check.
Prepare yourselves for his next quote.
Fact: Tier 2 Nations Want Equality, Not "Excuses"
"Tier Twos have no excuse but to perform to their peak".
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As if to literally add insult to injury, one of Mr. Gosper's final lines from his IRB interview was perhaps the most shocking of all.
"No longer do Tier 2 Nations have any excuses but to perform to their peak."
Tell that to the Eastern European and North Americans qualifiers who, on 15 and 14 days of rest respectively, must face off against three teams from the RBS Six Nations, each of whom has been granted 19 days.
Tell that to the unfortunate Africans who, in their last game of what will surely be the most challenging tournament of their lives, must face the might of Argentina on only three days rest.
Tell that to the legions of global rugby fans who want to believe that the spirit of true and meaningful competition endures at the sport's highest levels.
To their credit, the IRB invests massive amounts of money to strategically grow the game in markets like Eastern Europe, Africa and North America. But it seems clear that when these regions arrive at rugby's biggest show, they continue to be treated as second-class citizens.
Those who stand in front of the world rugby community and make baffling statements like the one highlighted above deserve to be held to account; an outcome that will only take place if fans of a truly global game make their voices heard.
Jeff Hull is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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