John Feehan’s 16 year reign as one of the most powerful men in world rugby ended today when he quit as CEO of he Six Nations and British and Irish Lions.
Feehan was involved in four British and Irish Lions tours and introduced bonus points to the Six Nations and leaves at a critical time for both organisations. The 2021 Lions tour to South Africa will have a minimum of eight matches – two less than last year’s tour of New Zealand which ended in a tied test series – and there are serious concerns that the Lions is being harmed by shorter tours. John Spencer, the team’s tour manager in New Zealand, has been openly critical of those suggestions, indicating it puts the entire concept at risk.
The 2025 tour to Australia is also set to have eight fixtures but the 2029 trip of New Zealand could involve 10 matches again due to that country’s ability to handle a longer fixture schedule.
Away from the battle for the future of the Lions, Feehan stood firm against calls for promotion and relegation to the Six Nations despite the demise of Italy and the rise of Georgia who are demanding the chance to prove they deserve to replace the Italians.
The search for Feehan’s successor will now start and whoever is chosen must wrestle with those crucial Six Nations and Lions issues knowing the English Premiership clubs believe shorter tours are the way forward. Feehan also supported Friday night fixtures for the Six Nations despite the travel problems they caused for fans and they remain another contentious issue.
Feehan departed in typically bullish mood and said, “After 16 wonderful years with Six Nations and The British and Irish Lions, I feel it is time for a change. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute working in both roles however the timing is now right for me and I am ready to pursue other interests”.
“I depart safe in the knowledge that both organisations are in a significantly better place than when I started, and indeed both have a very bright future ahead. I would like to acknowledge the fantastic people I have worked with over the years and look forward to watching rugby as a passionate supporter for many years to come”.
Pat Whelan, Six Nations Chairman said, “On behalf of everyone at Six Nations and all the stakeholders involved with our Championship, I would like to thank John for his tremendous contribution to Northern Hemisphere rugby. During John’s tenure, the Six Nations has evolved into the greatest annual international rugby competition and much of that is down to the fantastic work and commitment of John. The Championship is in a very strong position with viewing figures and attendances continuing to rise and the overall quality the best it has ever been.”
“John has been a tremendous leader for us over the past 16 years and we have enormous respect and admiration for everything he has achieved. We all wish him the very best for the future”.
Tom Grace, Chairman of the British & Irish Lions said, “John skillfully guided us through four successful Lions Tours from 2005 to 2017 on and off the pitch which saw some tremendous rugby played along the way but more importantly cherished memories created. John’s passion for the game and dedication to constantly improving the British & Irish Lions as an organisation was exemplary and we wish him every success for the future”.