International rugby changed forever as players allowed to switch nations after historic vote

World Rugby’s Council has approved an amendment allowing players to transfer unions in international rugby

World Rugby have approved a game-changing proposal to allow players to represent a second national team after a three-year stand-down period.

The governing body’s Council has permitted an international player to transfer once from one union to another from January 1, 2022, if they demonstrate “a close and credible link to that union via birth right”. They must have been born in the country they wish to transfer to, or have a parent or grandparent born in that country.

The player would need to have been stood down from international rugby for 36 months, and under the revised Regulation 8 criteria a player may only change union once.

World Rugby say “each case will be subject to approval by the World Rugby Regulations Committee to preserve integrity”.

After January 2022, any player who meets the above criteria can apply immediately for a transfer.

It is hoped the development will lead to a boost to the competitiveness of Tier Two nations, such as the Pacific Islands teams, which will eventually benefit the game as a whole. Players who have close and credible links to the “emerging union” through birth or ancestry will soon be able to “return” to those unions having previously represented another union instead of ending up on the scrapheap.

World Rugby say the process “recognised the modern rugby environment, including global player movement, the current ability to capture players by selecting them on the bench, and the desire of some players to transfer having been selected a limited number of times for one union. It also examined the impact of any change on the integrity of the international competition landscape”.

A 75% majority, or 39 of 52 votes, was required for the motion to become a reality.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “Approval of this landmark regulatory change is the culmination of detailed and widespread modelling and consultation across the game. We have listened to our membership and players and sought to update the regulation recognising the modern professional rugby environment without compromising the integrity of the international game.

“Any player who wishes to transfer will need to have a close and credible link to their new union, namely birth right or parent or grandparent birth right while meeting strong criteria, including a 36-month stand down period. We believe that this is the fairest way to implement progressive change that puts players first while also having the potential to support a growing, increasingly competitive international men’s and women’s game.”

World Rugby vice-chairman Bernard Laporte added: “We have listened to our membership and honoured our pledge to undertake wide-ranging review of this important regulation. We have consulted, sought feedback from our unions, regions and most importantly to players’ representatives, before making a recommendation to the Council. This change to how international rugby operates will provide transformational opportunities to players with dual backgrounds, providing they meet the key criteria sets out in the Regulation 8.”

Omar Hassanein, International Rugby Players CEO, said: “The proposal to change the rules around player eligibility is something that we have worked on over many years with our member associations. Many players across the world will now benefit from the chance to represent the country of their or their ancestors’ birth, serving as a real boost to the competitiveness of emerging nations, which in turn, will benefit the game as a whole.”

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