IRFU chief promises Irish 2023 Rugby World Cup bid is ‘risk-free’

IRFU chief promises Irish 2023 Rugby World Cup bid is ‘risk-free’
Philip Browne. Pic: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ireland’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup is a “risk-free” option for the game’s governing body, according to IRFU chief Philip Browne, writes Brendan O’Brien.

The union’s CEO spearheaded a heavy-hitting delegation that included Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Brian O’Driscoll in London on Monday where they, the French and the South African teams made their official presentations to World Rugby’s Council.

A recommendation will be forthcoming on a preferred host from Rugby World Cup Ltd at the end of October and, with a final decision to be announced on November 15, this event at Kensington’s Royal Garden Hotel marked a significant staging post.

The Irish presentation kicked-off with fuzzy videos highlighting the image of a country with a thousand welcomes and a reading of the William Butler Yeats poem ‘The Lake of Inisfree’ by Bob Geldof, but it is in the hard numbers where this will be won or lost.

In fairness to them, they weren’t found wanting there.

France and South Africa bring bigger stadia and the experience of hosting many a major sporting tournament and both have made sounds about generating more money for World Rugby which depends on the global tournament for 90% of all its revenue.

How could little old Ireland match that?

Browne’s response to the media afterwards was thorough and delivered with conviction. He spoke of a financial package which, he claimed, was looking more and more credible the longer this process had gone on.

A little dig at the other contenders there, maybe?

The Irish government has guaranteed the tournament fee of £120m. That, he said, takes the pressure off the organisers who can then offer match tickets for as low as EUR15. The government has also committed to underwrite the entire cost of the tournament.

So, if there wasn’t a single ticket sold, then the tournament would still go ahead and Browne added that the Irish state has also underwritten a significant proportion of the commercial package, which is made up of secondary sponsorships and corporate hospitality.

“So the entire financial package is money in the bank,” he stressed. “You could effectively bank that today.”

Still, other concerns had to be addressed besides.

Brexit, for one. The Taoiseach dealt with that one as smoothly as you would imagine.

Infrastructure has been another area for consideration. Ireland simply can’t match the arenas proliferating in France or South Africa but Browne talked up a world-class network of stadia and the fact that over EUR600m has spent on grounds in Ireland in the last decade.

Proximity to Dublin - all eight grounds lie within two hours of Dublin - was stressed. So too the fact that all were city centre locations. No mention of traffic issues, thankfully, or the fact that some venues fall some way short of ‘city’ status.

And as for accommodation? We got this too, was the message.

Twelve million tourists every year, said Browne. Five international airports on the island. Plenty of beds too. World Rugby require 2.7m bed nights for the tournament window. Ireland has a capacity of 11m for that same timeframe apparently.

“This bid is an extraordinarily powerful declaration of intent by the IRFU, our friends in the GAA, the governments, state bodies from North and South and the Irish people,” said Browne. “It proclaims we are united in our desire to host the Rugby World Cup and the proposition we have placed before World Rugby make this a reality.

“Ireland's bid is world-class; it combines a compelling commercial offer with iconic stadia, modern infrastructure, a major tourism industry, a deep rugby tradition and a commitment to World Rugby from all stakeholders that this tournament will take rugby to new levels across the globe.”

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