Problems with venues, IT services, and a lack of experience were major contributing factors which have left Ireland’s dream of hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup in tatters.
A technical review of three bids has put Ireland last while South Africa’s pitch to host the tournament has been deemed the strongest.
Ireland’s oversight bid team pledged to drive on ahead of a final vote by rugby-playing nations on the winner this month, but questions hang over why the Irish proposal ranked last.
Major rugby nations, including New Zealand, have signalled they will vote in line with the review when a final decision is made by the World Rugby Council on November 15.
Ireland came last in three of the five main categories, with the condition of stadiums, in particular, coming in for criticism.
The review found Ireland’s venues require “significant work” which creates a “higher risk than venues already at world class standard”. The Irish bid pitched the use of 12 venues.
The assessment found Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Pearse Stadium, and Fitzgerald Stadium require a “significant level of overlay which is flagged as a risk” to get them up to World Cup standards.
All but two of the venues need “significant” upgrades of technology and telecoms infrastructure, it found.
Casement Park is scheduled for redevelopment in 2020 and the review, at its time of writing, said the Belfast venue was still subject to planning permission.
Killarney, mooted as a host city, was singled out as being “significantly smaller” than other bidders’ cities. Issues with the level of seating in venues were highlighted.
The review found Ireland’s cities “lack prior experience” of an event like the Rugby World Cup.
Overall, Ireland’s low score for venues and host cities (21.75 out of 30) was a significant factor in the review, coming third behind France and South Africa.
Ireland’s commitment to pay the €120m tournament fee was also topped by France and South Africa.
Consultants found that Ireland’s strategy to build support for rugby among diaspora in US and Canada needs to be expanded.
Overall, the final score for the three bids put Ireland at 72.25%, France at 75.88%, and South Africa at 78.97%.
Ireland’s oversight bid team looked past the bruising technical critique and insisted that the country’s infrastructure was match-fit and would be ready to host the tournament.
Chairman of the 2023 bid, former tánaiste Dick Spring, said the consultants’ disappointing review was like “getting a bad opinion poll before the elections”.
The real result would come down to the hearts and minds of people who run rugby, he said, when the Rugby World Council votes in two weeks.
“We’ve got to convince these voters that we can do the best,” said Mr Spring, who himself won three caps for Ireland’s rugby team.
However, some claim the November 15 vote may be a rubber-stamping exercise.
The Government and rugby figures remain hopeful that the setbacks can be overcome.
Transport Minister Shane Ross said: “I am strongly encouraged by two things: Firstly that World Rugby have made it clear that ‘any of the three candidates could host a successful Rugby World Cup’. I am also encouraged that we ran both South Africa and France very close in the scoring.”
IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said the Irish bid had always expected the stadiums would score less favourably than the other two big bidders, but added: “100% we’re still in this race. It’s a three-horse race.
“People need to understand what we were trying to put forward in terms of our stadium solution. Our stadium solution is not the big, shiny, new stadia on the outskirts of cities.
“It was more about stadia right in the heart of our rugby communities to produce an atmosphere, an unrivalled fan atmosphere, that really can’t be achieved elsewhere.”
While Ireland will hope to secure the support of England, Scotland, Wales, and others to secure the 20 votes needed from the council tally, several rugby nations have already signalled that they will vote in line with the technical review.
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