Qatar has signed an £800 million contract to host the Nations Championship finals for eight years

Qatar is closing in on an eight-year deal worth £800 million to host the Rugby Nations Championship final after being given exclusive negotiating rights.

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy has entered a two-month exclusivity period with Six Nations Rugby and SANZAAR, the two governing bodies that will own and operate the new tournament, which is expected to begin in 2026.

World Rugby announced last October the creation of a biennial Nations Championship, starting in 2026, with the Six Nations touring the Southern Hemisphere for three matches every other summer before playing three home games against the other Southern Hemisphere teams in the autumn, but did not confirm any plans for a finals series.

Qatar last month made the initial pitch for a six-match finals series involving all 12 top-tier countries, and after answering a series of questions from the unions, they have now been given the green light to proceed. In what has been labeled in the tender documents as a “Super Bowl of Rugby”, Qatar is proposing to create a three-day sports festival to be held every two years from November 2026 at multiple locations in Doha, including Lusail Stadium, the venue for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Final.

Qatar would have guaranteed Six Nations and SANZAAR £800 million in revenue over the first four editions of the finals series, an extremely attractive proposition given the parlous state of many of the union’s finances. The funding for such a lucrative gig and prize money is already largely in place through agreements with Qatar Airways to come on board as title sponsor and a deal with marketing company Pitch International to sell the global TV rights to the finals and six group matches. played by each country that will precede them every two years.

A number of other Qatari companies, including Qatar National Bank and Qatar Energy, are said to have expressed interest in sponsoring the final series. The Six Nations and SANZAAR also received a rival bid from global sports and media company IMG, but have opted at this stage to pursue the Qatari option.

The 12 unions are believed to have signed a non-disclosure agreement and so could not comment when contacted.

Under the Qatari proposals, the top-ranked European team after the six group matches would face the leading Southern Hemisphere team in a grand final to determine the championship winners.

In addition, the second-placed Six Nations side would play the second team in the Southern Hemisphere, with the third playing third, and so on down to the sixth against the sixth. Fiji and Japan are expected to join New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina in taking on the European nations, with the sides ranked based on results in two six-team tables. The matches would take place as double-headers on three consecutive days in three different stadiums in Doha, leading up to the grand final in Lusail.

Qatar’s offer and promise in broadcasting and commercial wealth is extremely attractive to the unions, many of which are facing financial problems and struggling to sell their own TV rights. Southern hemisphere giants New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have all posted losses totaling tens of millions of pounds in recent years, while the RFU failed to find a broadcast partner for the England international against Japan later this month. A streaming website owned by World Rugby, Rugby Pass, has been given the rights, meaning England’s reunion with Eddie Jones will be their first Test match not to be televised for decades.

While the final decision will be made by the Six Nations and SANZAAR, World Rugby is also involved in the negotiations. The global governing body could also be tempted to back the proposal as they will split some of the money generated between the two countries, as well as use the money to grow the sport in poorer countries.

Any new competition would require final approval from the World Rugby Council, with the governing body keen to retain an element of promotion and relegation to allow smaller nations to develop.

Moving the Nations Championship final to Qatar would draw criticism from human rights groups, but unions’ biggest concern is whether the event would attract enough fans to travel to the Middle East. Another potential problem is the issue of player welfare, as organizing a finals series would mean an extra match for the ten countries that did not reach the grand final, but the money these associations have to offer is probably enough to convince them . Plans to scrap one of the two fallow weeks in the Six Nations will at least free up the space needed to stage the finals series in an already packed calendar.

A successful bid would mark Qatar’s second biggest sporting triumph after the 2022 World Cup, with the government keen to build on the perceived success of that tournament, especially given the emergence of neighboring Saudi Arabia as a global sporting power. Next year’s World Swimming Championships will take place in Qatar, as will the 2027 Basketball World Cup, while a bid for the 2036 Olympics is also being considered.

In addition to the financial benefits, Qatar’s bid is based on the country being the perfect neutral venue given its relative accessibility to the teams and fans. The Gulf state is almost halfway home to Southern Hemisphere countries returning from Europe, has seven world-class stadiums within a 53-mile radius of Doha, and offers excellent playing conditions for rugby with winter temperatures around 20 degrees.

A Six Nations spokesperson told Telegraph Sport: “Interest and excitement for the Rugby Nations Cup continues to grow ahead of its introduction in 2026. However, we do not comment on commercial matters or engage in speculation.” World Rugby declined to comment.

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