First off I have something to admit: I like soccer. I grew up in Berlin, Germany and played this wonderful sport until I was maybe 14 years old. It wasn't until I was 17 that I first came into contact with Rugby. My Grandfather is from the south-west of France so naturally I was aware of its existence and I'd watch the odd match of our local team in the stadium. But until then I didn't really care for it. Mostly because I loved soccer, but also I found Rugby a bit boring and basically I still do.
Please let me tell you why before you tell me how wrong I am:
My passion for Rugby started quite late which is a reality for most people who don't come from an established Rugby country. I didn't start actually playing it until I was at university and even then, due to a lack of players, not in a regular manner.
Of course a lot of things changed since then: I moved to France and being exposed to top level rugby on a regular basis made me realise one thing:
I don't find Rugby interesting. I'm not talking about club Rugby which I love. Especially the French leagues are very competitive and usually quite interesting. The same goes for the Premiership. I have never been a fan of franchises so I don't particularly fancy Super Rugby but I digress...
No, I am talking about international Rugby.
If you lived in Europe there really was no way around watching the Euro. Who could forget the successes of the Icelanders or the Welsh. While the new system had its flaws (16 out of 24 teams in the play-offs) it was a magnificent tournament. It symbolized what I envy about the sport as a Rugby fan.
We love to claim that Rugby is a truly global sport but it truly isn't. Things might change under the vice-presidency of Augustin Pichot but for as long as we are focussing on national teams and not international Rugby things will stay the way they are: Boring. I can't be bothered to watch the same ten fixtures year in year out. It's probably different if it's your national team that's playing but that's part of the problem, because it means that smaller countries are forgotten in the international planning even if they would get a hiding.
Rugby just doesn't have the same fluidity in international competitions that Soccer has. I'll admit that this is partly due to the fact that Rugby, as a sport, is more difficult to play than Association Football which makes the latter the more popular sport.
But the real reason is that Rugby is just a bit nationalistic. When France doesn't perform the first instinct is to blame the foreigners. Just to compare, I did a quick check, about 48% of the players in the Bundesliga (Germanys premier soccer league) are not qualified to play for the national team. Still: Germany won the Fifa World Cup in 2014.
If Rugby was a truly global sport then, as in business, the person best qualified should get the job. It shouldn't matter if he's from New Zealand, Argentina, Wales or Nigeria.
That is the situation in soccer. A global scouting network that brings the best players to the best leagues. Soccer, all in all, is dominated by clubs who want and need to make money and while I realise that the fees and salaries have gotten a bit out of hand this is basically a good thing. It means competition and a higher standard of play for the home-grown players and consequently, with the foreign players returning to their countries, it means that the overall level of international soccer is increasing.
I am aware that international soccer is not the utopia I'm making it out to be, but you just need to take a look at the Lelos progress to see what foreigners in top leagues can do to competitions.
I am disappointed by the decision of the LNR to limit foreign players because all it does is reassure the status quo.
Despite some good developments at lower club level this is, overall, a bad decision for World Rugby, because this means the player drain to the Southern Hemisphere will continue.
Players from non-Tier 1 countries will continue to be overlooked because compared to New Zealanders their commercial value isn't high enough and the RWC-Quarterfinals will continue to be a closed shop.