After six boisterous weeks, the 2019 Rugby World Cup is over. By all accounts, the tournament has been a roaring success, with Nikkei Business estimating that it has injected more than ¥430 billion into the economy.
Sadly, it seems, the Japanese national side saw very little of this return.
Domestic rugby is governed by the Japan Rugby Football Union, which worked closely with the organizing committee of the 2019 Rugby World Cup to host the tournament.
Between them, it was decided that each player in the Brave Blossoms’ 31-member World Cup squad would be paid ¥10,000 a day for as long as the team remained in the tournament.
If the Brave Blossoms made it to the knockout stage, the players in the squad would be paid a total of ¥1 million each, which would be increased to ¥3 million if they made the semifinals. (Apparently, no figure was set if the team was able to advance beyond there.)
The Japan Rugby Football Union was officially founded in 2013, but its origins go back as far as 1926. Its current chairman is Shigetaka Mori, who himself was a star player and has a reputation for placing value in his players over his organization.
But, no matter how well the national side plays, the reality is that the professional components of the sport are still a long way off contracts offered to soccer and baseball players.
Novelist Jun Ikeido tackled this issue in a book titled “No Side Game,” in which he laid bare the hard facts of playing rugby in Japan, describing it as an endless battle with insecurity both on and off the field.
Rugby players in Japan are ostensibly amateurs, and belong to teams owned by various corporations. The players are company employees, though they are mostly excused from office work so they can practice.
The upside of this setup is that the players can go back to being company men after they retire from the sport, thus being ensured of their livelihoods when they’re no longer athletes.
The downside, however, is that there’s always the risk that corporations may elect to dismantle their teams, which are typically expensive to run and maintain.
Even the owner of five-time Top League winner Toshiba Brave Lupus, famed for having national team captain Michael Leitch in its ranks, was rumored to be in talks about selling their team to another corporation.
On Oct. 31, Toshiba denied the rumors, with fans suggesting that the media was at fault for jumping the gun on this one.
Meanwhile, blogs such as Irodori Terrace have argued that it shouldn’t be about corporations anymore, and Japanese rugby needs to change from the bottom up. Once the players can earn some real money, that would provide an incentive for overseas talent to come over and seek positions in Japan.
The Japan Rugby Football Union is well aware of the monetary issues facing Japanese rugby and, in an unprecedented move, is deploying recruitment company Bizreach to gather strategists to plot its post-World Cup course. It’s believed that annual salaries could be as high as ¥10 million.
Nikkei Business reader R. Tatsu has noted that “both the national ski and fencing teams have also reached out to Bizreach.”
“I have hopes for what happens next,” they write.
As for the Brave Blossoms, we can only pray that the same good fortune will follow them to France in 2023 as they work their way toward another successful challenge for the knock-out stages at the next Rugby World Cup.
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