World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper has hinted that Ireland’s timing hasn’t been right as the country finds itself ranked behind “two masters of the universe in terms of putting on major world events” in the race to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
IRFU chief Philip Browne questioned the Rugby World Cup technical review group’s recommendation that South Africa should host the tournament in a letter to Gosper and all 39 members of the World Rugby Council, who will take part in next Wednesday’s secret ballot.
He raised concerns that the report failed to adequately consider the risk of “starkly empty stadia”, the “underlying threat level” to security, South Africa’s ability to follow through on its commitments after Durban was stripped of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and the country’s ‘junk’ currency rating.
When specifically asked about Browne’s latter three questions on Sky Sports’ The Offload, Gosper said: “It’s disappointing there has been some comments made that we don’t believe are accurate and don’t represent the accuracy of our own report.
“We have official channels which they are using to ask us, on every element of our report, why we scored in a certain way, were there errors, were there issues, and we’re in the process of answering those questions.
“We’re very confident that our process is robust and stands up to any scrutiny.
“Let’s be fair, all three of these countries can put on a magnificent World Cup. Everyone qualifies in that sense.
“However, there has been a points winner and that points winner, we said in the beginning (of the process), would be the recommendation of the Rugby World Cup board.”
Gosper was also challenged Irish bid chairman Dick Spring’s claim that the “skewed” scoring system used in the report, which gave 65% weighting to finances and venues, would “preclude” new countries from hosting a World Cup.
“We’re looking at who’s presenting a magnificent facility, infrastructure and everything that goes around a World Cup for it to be a major success,” replied Gosper.
“Ireland is incredibly competitive in this process. If they consider themselves a small country, then they’re in the game and they’ll continue to be in the game.
“Of course, there’s the vote to come and we’ll see what happens with that. But this is now the third biggest global sporting event on the planet and it does require scale, and it does require facilities that are world class.
“In this particular contest, you’ve got two countries that have very recently hosted some world class events beyond the Rugby World Cup and demonstrated and have been experienced in deploying a lot of their talents around events such as this.
“It’s a tough competition.”
The Ireland bid team had also questioned whether New Zealand, a country with a smaller population than Ireland, would have won the right to host the 2011 tournament under these criteria.
Gosper said that “depends on who they are up against”, before adding: “They (Ireland) are going up against two masters of the universe in terms of putting on major world events, even outside the Rugby World Cup.
“They could be up against other nations that have never run World Cups, it just depends on who throws their hats in the ring at the time.”
The selection process was designed as Fifa were dogged by corruption scandals over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights with “transparency, thoroughness and professionalism” in mind.
Gosper’s priority was “to make sure we (World Rugby) were in a position of negotiation and tension in terms of competition between three countries to provide the best possible World Cup at the highest price.
“That’s because the revenues that come out of these World Cups is what funds the development of the sport around the world.
“We’ve got three countries that can host an amazing World Cup at almost twice what we received in surplus at the England World Cup in 2015, so this has been a very successful process.”
Gosper also defended the method of the final vote: “The advice we’ve had is that a secret ballot is a very democratic way of carrying out the final vote.
“People can vote not feeling they’re under any fear or pressure, and they’ll vote in the way they feel is right.”
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