Seeing professional rugby gaining a meaningful foothold in the United States is a dream that many of us hold, and as such, some sort of rumor about a new planned tournament surfaces near enough every year. Over the years, they’ve ran from everything from fully fledged professional leagues to a professionalisation of our teams to encourage rugby as a valid sporting pursuit, and near everytime we’ve been let down.
With this comes an agonising balance between becoming guarded and cynical around these rumours, but also not being able to NOT talk about them. The core of these speculations always comes down to the fact that we want our favourite sport to be successful, and the benchmark for this in American sporting culture is professionalization. Plus, with this comes the opportunity for those as talented in the sport as their peers in American football of hockey to reap the same benefits.
The biggest news in recent years regarding professional rugby has come from the camp of William Tatham Jr, and I recently sat down with him to discuss what his next plans are.
Rugby America: Has the inclusion of Rugby 7′s in the Olympics helped plans for professional rugby in the USA move forward?
William Tatham Jr.: Yes, this is a big boost to our long term plans. The endorsement of a body like the Olympics not only opens up the world as a whole to the sport, giving it real legitimacy worldwide, it also gives the potential American audience an easily digestible window into what could be quite an opaque sport.
RA: If you’re using the Olympics as a jumping off point for promoting the US game, will you be bringing the formats of the two games into line, ie using a smaller playing pitch?
Tatham: Yes and No. Given the tools at our disposal, we can afford to just focus on the US as our market and we need to find a broader audience. The US loves to play and beat the world, and the world loves to play and beat us, so we’re looking at ways to tailor our endeavours for both audiences.
RA: Will the USOC hold any sway over how you progress next?
Tatham: The Olympics Committee has, and I’m sure will continue to be, a great partner, but our first commitment is to the sport and our team doing well. We’re not aiming for ‘valiant efforts’ or sacrifices for other tournaments.
RA: 7′s is lining up to be the best bet for professional rugby in the US?
Tatham: Definitely, it’s time is now!
RA: Is there a predicted launch date for the World competition?
Tatham: Lets just say it’ll be a great Halloween party.
That concludes the interview. I’ll be right here to follow any future developments, but from what Tatham said, this is looking like the breakthrough we’ve been looking for.