The 2011 Rugby World Cup is underway, hosts New Zealand have looked strong so far, and defending champions South Africa barely got by Wales in their first match with a 17-16 victory. The United States also notched a win against Russia, only their third in the history of the competition, and first against a team not named Japan.
I was discussing the Rugby World Cup with a friend in Canada who is quite passionate about the sport, and he noted that Canada coach Kieran Crowley went public with his criticism of the scheduling of group play in the Rugby World Cup. In an article on The Telegraph, Crowley is quoted saying:
“It makes me laugh really when tier-two countries have four-day turnarounds and all the tier-one countries have seven-day turnarounds and eight-day turnarounds,”
My friend even found a nice table showing team rank, and the turn around between matches.
World Rnk Country 1-2 2-3 3-4 Avg
1 NZ 7 8 8 7.67
5 France 8 6 7 7.00
12 Tonga 5 7 11 7.67
13 Japan 6 5 6 5.67
14 Canada 4 9 5 6.00
4 England 8 6 7 7.00
7 Scotland 4 11 6 7.00
9 Argentina 7 8 7 7.33
16 Georgia 4 10 4 6.00
17 Romania 7 7 4 6.00
2 Australia 6 6 8 6.67
8 Ireland 9 7 5 7.00
11 Italy 6 8 7 7.00
18 USA 4 8 4 5.33
19 Russia 5 5 6 5.33
3 South Africa 6 5 8 6.33
6 Wales 7 8 6 7.00
10 Samoa 4 7 5 5.33
15 Fiji 7 8 7 7.33
20 Namibia 4 8 4 5.33
You will notice that as you go down each table, there is a tendency for the weaker teams to have to play on shorter turn around. The real loser seems to be Samoa, who despite their #10 world ranking, has a 5.33 day average turn around, the lowest for any team. While Canada and other “minnow” teams have said they just have to deal with the issue in any way they can (Tonga for example had to change 11 members from their starting squad because of a lack of rest), I got the feeling there was probably something else that played into the scheduling. Television broadcast.
The tendency is that weekend matches, such as those hosted on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday tend to have higher ratings, as people will tend to have more leisure time to watch matches. Sure enough, looking at hosts New Zealand (Ranked #1) play schedule, they play on Friday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday during group play. Australia (Ranked #3) play on Saturday, Sunday, Friday, Saturday. Namibia (Ranked #20, last in the tournament) plays on Saturday, Wednesday, Thursday, Monday. Of course most of the minnows get a weekend game, but most of those are against the top ranked teams. I haven’t analyzed the full schedule, but the implications seem clear. The Rugby World Cup wants to maximize viewership, and they believe to do this, would be to schedule teams that are strongest on days that are best for television viewing.
Tournament Spokesperson Mike Jaspers pretty much confirmed this:
“This is a tournament with global interest, not just New Zealand. Factors considered were fan appeal, broadcast and commercial considerations as well as player welfare. So we think this is a fair and balanced schedule for all teams while also achieving the best result in terms of the wider interests of the game,”
Doesn’t seem to fair to me, Jaspers adds:
“The broadcast revenues that are generated by scheduling around the top nations’ matches are reinvested by the IRB (International Rugby Board) to increase the competitiveness of the so-called smaller nations.”
I’d really like to know exactly how that is being done.
H/T (Hat-Tip) to donimator for pointing out these facts to me.