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Volume 7 No. 149

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Yannick Colaco (right) and Mark Tatum announced two preseason games in Mumbai in '19.
Photo: NBA

NBA India VP Yannick Colaco admits basketball is a long way from cricket in terms of popularity on the subcontinent. In fact, Colaco said badminton, kabaddi and soccer are currently the next-most popular sports in India, with basketball currently somewhere around sixth or seventh on the list.

But he added that "there’s a lot of movement" among the sports vying for second, and claimed the gap basketball has to close on the country’s second- and third-most popular sports is not "too large."

"It's important for us not just to become a top-three sport, but become a very strong top-three sport," Colaco said during an interview at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, NC, over All-Star Weekend. "We want to entrench ourselves and be able to say in the next couple years, 'Basketball is really a strong No. 2 or No. 3 sport.'"

Colaco currently leads a staff of 21 at the league’s Mumbai office, a number he expects to continue to grow. The most recent example of the NBA’s effort to make up ground in India was the recent announcement of two preseason games in Mumbai in October, the first in NBA history to take place in the country. The Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings will play on Oct. 4 and again on Oct. 5 at the NSCI Dome. Those games will air live in India and reach fans in more than 200 countries and territories on TV, digital and social media.

CHANGING LANDSCAPE: The NBA opened its office in Mumbai in '11. Colaco has been in his current role since Feb. '13. He played basketball at the national university level in India before beginning his sports media career at IMG. In terms of opportunities for young basketball players in the country, the landscape is vastly different than it was during his playing days, he said.

"The big challenge for sport in the country has really been the opportunities and facilities," Colaco said. "In terms of training, in terms of facilities, that wasn’t there about 10 or 15 years ago across multiple sports. It's developed a lot in the last few years. We can play an important role in building that up for basketball."

One key pillar of the league’s strategy is NBA Academy India, an elite basketball training center in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR). The academy, the top of the country's grassroots pyramid, has housed the top male and female prospects in the country since it opened in May ’17.

'PRIORITY MARKET': Colaco emphasized that the NBA, whose strategy for India initially revolved around grassroots efforts, is in it for the long haul. He cited the number of top players, including Golden State Warriors F Kevin Durant and former Miami Heat F Chris Bosh, who have visited the country in recent years as one component of the league's long-term vision.

"Its a deliberate long-term strategy, and now we're ready to actually bring a game to market," Colaco said. "That’s been part of the strategy that we set five years ago. While obviously you try things out and you make modifications, the one thing that’s been consistent is we're in here for the long haul. This is important. This is a priority market for the NBA, and we will be invested in this market for a long period of time."

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper poses with the RWC trophy during a tour event.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper believes the U.S. is likely to put up a "highly attractive" bid to host the Rugby World Cup in the near future, and he said that the demise of PRO Rugby after just one season has not tarnished the image of rugby in the market.

Gosper said that the sport's popularity in the U.S. is on the rise, despite "entrenched sporting viewership" of the NFL, MLB, the NBA and other leagues.

Int'l test matches in Chicago and Washington, DC, the U.S. hosting the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco in '18, qualification for next year’s Rugby World Cup and a first victory over top-tier side Scotland have helped increase the profile of rugby in the States.

Gosper believes USA Rugby will soon bid for the game’s flagship 15-a-side World Cup event.

"Whether the U.S. is ready to put up a great bid in 2027 or whether it’s 2031, eventually, we believe that the U.S. will put up a bid that will be highly attractive," he said. "I would be very surprised if the U.S. did not throw their hat in the ring. Why is [the U.S. hosting the RWC] attractive to World Rugby? Of course, it would generate very high values from that market in broadcast returns for us and that would be sustainable over time. World Rugby is quite heavily reliant on broadcast [revenues]."

Gosper said that a bid would "create more success for the national team" and broaden the footprint of rugby.

Japan is hosting next year’s World Cup followed by France in ‘23, so it is likely that the ‘27 World Cup will be outside of Europe.

But rugby has yet to break into the U.S. market. Its development in the country suffered a setback with the demise of PRO Rugby after just one season in ‘16, amidst a dispute over finances.

PRO Rugby Founder Doug Schoninger filed a lawsuit against USA Rugby claiming he was "conned" into investing $6M to launch the first professional club rugby club competition in North America.

But Gosper does not think the league’s demise has tarnished the image of rugby in the U.S.

Gosper is hopeful another new domestic league, Major League Rugby, which has a TV deal with CBS Sport, will be more successful, though he stopped short of saying he was "confident."

"We hope it’s a success," he said. "We do think they are sensible people going about this in a meticulous way with serious ambitions."

One example of the growth of popularity of rugby in the U.S., Gosper said, is the number of cities that have expressed an interest in hosting the future World Rugby Sevens Series.

“We are seeing interest from the major cities on the West and East Coast," he said. "San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Chicago, New York are the places that have shown an initial interest in hosting such an event. And Boston."

While the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco proved a good shop window for American fans, Gosper believes the team underperformed.

"I think the USA would have been quite disappointed with their showing in that versus actually how they have begun this World Series season," he said.

Despite the current momentum behind rugby in the U.S., which World Rugby says has a potential fan base of around 30 million people, Gosper admits that cracking the U.S. rugby market is a tough nut.

“The prize is fantastic," he said. "It’s also a very, very difficult market to break into because it's incredibly crowded and commercialized."

The Australian Football League will "embark on an in-depth review" of its "contentious" illicit drug policy, with clubs and players having "significant input" into how the drug testing, treatment and punishment system operates, according to Jake Niall of THE AGE. Mental health -- and the way it overlaps with drug use -- is "expected to be a major focus of the AFL's review," which will be led by AFL GM of Football Operations Steve Hocking, who will "canvass the views of the clubs," some of which "want more information about the drug-taking at their workplace." The AFL's drugs policy is expected to remain in its current "two strike'' from for the '19 season, and any changes arising from the review would be introduced for the '20 season. The review is "not likely to be dealt with by Hocking's competition committee, which had major input into changing the rules of the game last year." There is "certain to be a push" from clubs to have more information about drug test results made available. The club doctor is the only person at a club with full knowledge of positive urine tests of "detections," and of the precise nature of the hair test results (THE AGE, 2/21).

Liga MX club presidents are "looking north" to the U.S. and are not discounting a combined North American league "at some point in the future." Santos Laguna President Alejandro Irarragorri said, "For me, the similarities that Mexico has with the north [U.S.] are greater than towards the south and I'm a loyal believer that we should consolidate our alliance with the MLS and make a really strong league (ESPN.com, 2/21).

Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle said that RA is "embarking on a mission to lure new participants to the code" through a program embedded in clubs across the country. A "Get into Rugby Club" youth program will be launched on Thursday with the long-term goal of increasing participation across sevens and XVs (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 2/21).

Breakdancing was proposed for inclusion in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. It is among four sports that organizers will propose to the IOC, as well as surfing, climbing and skateboarding, which will all debut at Tokyo 2020. Squash "campaigned unsuccessfully" for inclusion in the Paris Games, as did billiard sports and chess. The IOC will "consider the proposal and must reach a decision" by Dec. '20 (BBC, 2/21).