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World Rugby Weighs In On NCR-USA Rugby Debate, Sort Of

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World Rugby Weighs In On NCR-USA Rugby Debate, Sort Of

Maryland vs Salisbury from 2019. Both teams will be in NCR for 2020-21. Linda Zvitkovitz photo.

Late last month National Collegiate Rugby (NCR) CEO Steve Cohen wrote to World Rugby seeking clarification on World Rugby regulations that might affect NCR’s relationship with USA Rugby—the reply was not necessarily as clear as either NCR or USA Rugby probably wanted.

Cohen sought to confirm what many in NCR have been saying: that Regulation 16, which governs who can tour or play across borders, was only governing international and professional teams; that in Regulation 4, college teams are deemed separate from club teams and under different sanctioning rules; and that in Regulation 3, World Rugby states that regulations should not conflict with in-country laws.

That last one is significant because NCR has held that their ability to play unfettered is codified in the Ted Stevens Act that governs amateur sports in the USA.

The Reply

About a week later, World Rugby’s Colum Lavery replied. Here’s what he said:

World Rugby’s Regulations apply to everyone, not just professionals or internationals.

National Unions and other unions can pass rules that are more restrictive than World Rugby’s, but as long as they don’t conflict with local law. Lavery further said that if Cohen and NCR felt USA Rugby’s actions contravened US law, they needed to take it up within the US legal process.

Regulation 16 applies to all teams and groups, not just professionals. Lavery then essentially quoted the Reg. 16 verbage, noting this passage:

“A Rugby Body or Club shall not play a Match or Matches against any Rugby Body or Club or other team(s) that are not affiliated (temporarily or otherwise) to a Union or against teams that contain Players that are not members of a Union without the prior written consent of the CEO (subject to Regulation 16.2.5 below).”

and …

“16.2.8    Any Match, Series of Matches, tour or tournament which does not fully comply with the requirements of the Bye-Laws, Regulations and Laws of the Game shall be deemed unofficial. The Union within whose territory such an unofficial event takes place (and the visiting Union or Unions) and/or the Union or Unions of participating Provincial, County, District, Clubs or Rugby Bodies will be held responsible and will be liable to sanction in accordance with the Regulations and/or Bye-Laws.”

Getting Legal

Based on this reply, it appears that if USA Rugby wishes to prevent its member teams from playing NCR teams, it can, at least in the short-term. But Lavery also didn’t outright say World Rugby regulations supersede local law.

Check out the Op-Ed from Rafael Zahralddin, which points out, in part, that a case involving FIFA and US Soccer was ruled in favor of the Ted Stevens Act limiting the power of FIFA on domestic competition.

Op-Ed: The Ted Stevens Act Gives Amateur Competitions Freedom

NCR’s recourse may well be to go to court, something neither NCR nor USA Rugby can really afford right now.

Lavery ended his reply by saying that university and school teams, organizations, and tournaments play and are indeed affiliated with their unions around the world, and that he was unaware of any attempt to challenge that requirement under any national law in any jurisdiction.

USA Rugby has, behind the scenes, been hammering Reg. 16 and other World Rugby regulations as the reason why they want NCR to be members of the National Governing Body. NCR, which has formed its budget based on accepting its own membership dues and not sharing dues with USA Rugby (unless a member wants to donate), has made perhaps too many financial promises to be able to do that. Thus, NCR has pointed to the Ted Stevens Act as the last word on the matter. 

Follow The Money

So it comes down to this: NCR and USA Rugby have been talking and need to hammer out a deal whereby NCR pays money (that’s what USA Rugby wants) to be full members in good standing. NCR's leadership is potentially open to this if the organization doesn't pay too much. Be aware that every dollar-per-member sent to USA Rugby is about $15,000 less in NCR’s budget.

Other USA Rugby members benefit from NCR being full members as well, as the overall dues level drops by about as much as 15% if NCR is part of it.

World Rugby's reply seems to put the sanctioning power in the hands of USA Rugby, but should there be a legal challenge under the Stevens Act, that could easily change. 

And remember, all of this might have been avoided had USA Rugby's leadership been honest with themselves about how bad, financially, 2018 was and if they had then been more vigilant of the organization's budget, especially the Men's National 15s Team budget, in 2019.