|Photo ABC: Pichot won Bronze at |
Rugby World Cup 2007
Former Pumas captain and Argentina´s representative on the IRB Council, Agustín Pichot has revealed the crucial remaining steps facing Argentina in its transition to professionalism. In an interview with Eugenio Astesiano of Al Rugby Pichot outlined what is to come to complete the seven years transition that began in the aftermath of Rugby World Cup 2007.
Pichot desires Argentina´s test players to have the advantages of rivals from leading countries such as France and South Africa. This means significant modifications and investments are required and the union is in need of operating on a business model which can sustain the costs required to give Argentina a comparable system to others.
To make this possible there are a number of projects which need to realized including a high performance centre, contracts for forty or more players and a competition for them to play in. These three goals require significant economic backing which is to come from money generated from test matches in Argentina as well as sponsorship and television rights.
The need for a High Performance Centre in Argentina has long been an issue and was brought to the attention of global rugby during the later stage of the 2012 Rugby Championship when star second-rower Patricio Albacete criticized the conditions as being sub-standard. Having played in France since 2003 and winning the Heineken Cup in 2010 and the Top 14 in 2008, 2011 and 2012 Albacete is a player prepared under the best possible conditions.
In order for Argentina to perform at its peak it requires significantly improved infrastructure at home and Pichot agrees firmly. Pichot is wanting Argentina to have its own version of the Marcousis which is where the FFR has its own high performance centre and administration some 50KM from Paris. Should the project be finalized then the new Argentine national centre will be located in Ezeiza in Greater Buenos Aires. According to Pichot the plans are well advanced.
Plans for professional and amateur rugby in Argentina are also well advanced. While it is mandatory that Argentina has professional rugby in a sustainable format it is also paramount that the amateur game can continue to be highly successful. The fight against professionalism from the Buenos Aires union (URBA) has been centered on protectionism as there is great fear that the clubs would die should there exist a professional competition in the country.
The UAR has made significant changes to diminish the power of URBA over the rest of the country and the resentment of the interior to URBA has decreased dramatically while a host of cities outside of Buenos Aires have hosted international rugby. It marks an important step in building towards a professional future and the UAR will continue with the policy of hosting test matches nationwide.
The system has also been vital for the production of many a Puma and Pichot desires that this can continue but Pichot contends that it is time to take action to end the decline of Los Pumas since winning Bronze in 2007. To combat the problem Argentina needs to elevate the level of its players and needs them all to be playing professional rugby.
With the UAR fighting against a non-existent global season the number of players in Europe is set to change dramatically. They will be retuning home to take up contracts with the UAR in 2015 before the World Cup and will thus be available for all test matches. The issue of fielding depleted sides in June will therefore come to an end as will the drain that has seen Argentina struggle in the last round of the Rugby Championship in 2012 and 2013 and subsequently underperform in European tours.
The solution lies in Super Rugby with Argentina set to be confirmed as being added to the competition in 2016 with one team. Confirmation will be made by SANZAR on February 20. The transition to professionalism will see players contracted to the Argentine franchise and to the UAR and they will be paid per test match appearance identical to the set up in South Africa.
The UAR will thus not be paying the players entirely by themselves. Pichot says that the UAR will pay 51% of the costs of the franchise and the remainder will come from the private sector. This is, in other words, a revolution and a genuine transition to professionalism and it is to involve big name Pumas players.
Last month Pichot reaffirmed Argentina´s interest in being the host nation of Rugby World Cup 2023. With Argentina being added to Super Rugby next month and the contracting of players based in Europe to soon begin there afterwards the next project for Pichot could well be that of bidding to make Argentina 2023 a reality.