Japan league bosses upping the ante

·3-min read

While England’s – and to an extent, France’s – clubs labour under a salary cap and New Zealand await crucial private equity investment, Japan’s league continues to go from financial strength to financial strength.

Japan Rugby League One chairman Genichi Tamatsuka and chief operating officer Haijimi Shoji gave a media briefing on Tuesday to outline their future strategy and introduce their latest roll of honour in terms of sponsorship and partnership.

The most recent big-name signings to the league are All Blacks Damian McKenzie and Patrick Tuipulotu, who are both thus missing Super Rugby to flesh out their earnings in Japan, which nobody can blame them for.


But with Tamatsuka, who has backed up his playing career with a corporate career, determined to fill his league with the best players in the world, it should be not only the New Zealand domestic teams worried by Japan’s financial muscle.

“I really want more great players joining the league,” Tamatsuka was quoted as saying by Stuff.

“We will do our best in terms of the environment, and in terms of their life situation and support.

“We already have know-how. We have accepted so many great players already. We’ll just improve our environments, and our contests,

“The quality of games is very important. We have to have really high-level games, otherwise some of the players will not be satisfied in terms of their own development.

“So, we want to invite more great players.”

That is likely to mean a flood of big-name players heading to Japan in the wake of the 2023 World Cup, while the contractual sabbatical will also likely become a path well-trodden. But it is not only New Zealand who have reason to be fearful, as the money in the league is going to increase and potentially make Japan competitive with Europe.

“The competition to get the good players in the global market is becoming tougher,” continued Tamatsuka.

“So, the players’ environment and compensation, those are two very important parts to keep our attractiveness to the non-Japanese players.

“Here, the teams and companies are making heavy investments to make the environment better, and in terms of the compensation I think the rugby market’s expansion is very important.

“We are now working on co-creation value programmes with partner companies, which should make our financial conditions better.

“I think the salary level for non-Japanese players will be kept, or even improved. We’d like to keep our competitive advantage to get the non-Japanese players.”

But most pertinently, although there are limits on each league team (there are 24 teams) of three non-Japanese test players per team, there is more capacity for non-capped foreign players, which could see an exodus of bread-and-butter players from domestic leagues on longer contracts than just sabbatical years.

“The longer-term contracts are quite attractive in terms of the players’ contribution to Japan’s teams, to take them to the next stage,” concluded Tamatsuka.

“Therefore, in this sense, the longer contracts are quite attractive.”

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