Peter Bills: Dwindling southern hemisphere crowds must be addressed

The growing concern behind the state of the game across the southern hemisphere is an alarming contrast with the Six Nations tournament, which resumes this weekend.

Try buying a ticket for the big matches of the latter, such as Wales v France in Cardiff this Friday night, or England v Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday. Apart from the ticket touts, you have little hope of finding a source.

What is more, it is increasingly unusual to be able to get seats, certainly at the last minute, for the major Heineken Cup matches. And in France, when Paris-based Stade Francais switch one of their home games in the Top 14 domestic league from Stade Jean Bouin to the Stade de France, raising the potential capacity from around 20,000 to 80,000, they virtually sell out the Test venue.

Now contrast all that with what is going on right across the southern hemisphere. This year's Super 14 started a couple of weekends ago and already, vast swathes of empty terraces and vacant seats have been discerned at most grounds. Anyone anywhere can walk up at the last moment and buy a ticket.

The trouble is, in many cases, those tickets are too expensive for the local population in these challenging economic times. People under the cosh financially cannot justify spending anything between South African Rand 800 and 1000 (£75 to £90) a night on a rugby game for themselves and their families. So a lot don't go.

Nor is this a difficulty confined solely to Super 14 games. Last year's Tri-Nations Test matches were seriously difficult to sell, especially in New Zealand and Australia. The Kiwis don't like the night games, which are insisted upon by TV, so a lot stay at home. If supporters are travelling, say from Wellington or Dunedin to Christchurch, the 7.35p.m. kick-off usually means they have to build into their cost factor an overnight stay. Many more won't do that so unloading the tickets becomes even harder.

Across the Tasman, Australian rugby officials have a huge challenge on their hands from other sports and the Wallabies' series of defeats last year - they lost five of six games at one time to New Zealand and South Africa – did not help. Aussies like winners; they don't rush to buy seats to see losing teams, unlike, say, supporters in England and Ireland.

So you put all this together and you have a problem. The game is absolutely booming in the northern hemisphere, not least because of the population numbers. When you can draw from a population figure of maybe 65 million (the Government lost count years ago) which is now the case in the UK, you've got a pretty decent chance of selling out a 25,000 or even 80,000 stadium. Much the same applies in Paris, or Marseille (capacity 60,000).

So what can the game do about this worrying imbalance. For a start, it can start to become a lot more tolerant and understanding of other countries' difficulties and possible plans to ease those concerns. For example, the ELVs, mooted in the last two years, were an attempt to speed up the game and make it more attractive to a wider audience.

The game in the southern hemisphere is faster, there's no doubt about it. Former New Zealand All Black Carlos Spencer, who has just joined South African Super 14 outfit the Lions, based in Johannesburg, said as much recently. He claimed much of the rugby played in the northern hemisphere was poor. A pity he took so long to find that out, but then doubtless all the money he earned from Northampton and Gloucester helped soothe his conscience.

Nevertheless, when the ELVs were suggested to the northern hemisphere countries, they voted against them even though some had not even trialled them at a serious level. That kind of blinkered thinking is an expression of selfishness which does the game no good.

If rugby union falls apart in Australia in the face of the serious, unrelenting challenges from other sports, is that going to benefit the northern hemisphere? Not in my book. If the New Zealand Rugby Union is so short on cash it cannot prevent most of its best players heading overseas, will that be good for the game in that country? Of course not...

This game sold itself long ago on the premise of being a worldwide sport, one that pitched countries of opposing hemispheres against each other in classic sporting contest. I have no doubt Wales v France, England v Ireland and Italy v Scotland this coming weekend will be fascinating encounters.

But if more consideration is not given to countries who don't have 70,000 to 80,000 spectators every time they open the doors of their main stadium, then we might end up being fed a non-stop diet of such 6 Nations matches, to the exclusion of much else.

That can't be in anyone's interests.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style