SYDNEY, Oct 27 (Reuters) - Billionaire mining tycoon Andrew Forrest has said the launch of his mooted Indo-Pacific Rugby Championship could be pushed back to a March-June window in 2019, which could result in a fixtures clash with Super Rugby and the June internationals.
Forrest, one of Australia’s wealthiest men, had initially proposed a mid-2018 launch for the six-team competition, kicking off as the Super Rugby season comes to a close.
He said on Friday, however, that it could also be pushed back to the first half of the following year, which would disrupt an already crowded rugby calendar.
Forrest pushed the tournament in the wake of his public feud with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) over its decision to axe the Perth-based Western Force from Super Rugby in his home state of Western Australia.
But he has since been working with the ARU on the tournament, which would provide a platform for the defunct Force’s revival.
“The two competition windows ... we’re waiting the ARU’s final recommendation,” he said at a media briefing in Sydney.
The tournament would have 10 rounds and a total of 33 matches initially, he added, and would look to expand to eight to 10 teams in 2019-20.
The competition’s success is likely to hinge on the participation of high-profile players, and Forrest has promoted it as a solution to the talent drain that sees a number of Australian professionals head off-shore every year to take up more lucrative contracts in Europe and Japan.
The ARU requires players to compete in domestic competitions to be eligible to play for the national Wallabies side unless they have already accumulated 60 test caps.
But it remains unclear whether the ARU is willing to let its contracted players compete in Forrest’s tournament.
Despite that, Forrest said he had already contacted current Wallabies players.
”Yeah, of course,“ he said. ”This is for players, this opens up options, this opens up revenue, the possibility they do not have to leave our fair shores to be paid what you can in former Soviet Union countries or in Japan or in Europe.
“We are now going to be competitive with those international clubs.”
Forrest said he would seek a formal endorsement from the ARU at a meeting next week and then look to promote it at a World Rugby board meeting next month.
No countries in the Asia-Pacific region have committed a team to Forrest’s project but top government officials in Australia, including foreign minister Julie Bishop, have voiced their support.
Forrest said he expected the tournament would be a “Petri dish” for World Rugby to trial rule changes.
“We have to be different in everything, recognising what works in the field of all sporting competitions,” he said.
“If we can’t deliver excitement into each game ... and can’t make it something which is thoroughly entertaining then we should pack up and go home.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford