DONAL LENIHAN: World Cup bid already looks holed below the waterline

What a disaster. Ireland’s race to host the 2023 World Cup exclusively in this country is, on the face of it, all but run before even reaching the starting line of World Rugby’s council vote in London on November 15, writes Donal Lenihan.

By emerging third from the list of the three bidders, after a forensic independent audit carried out by World Rugby’s technical review group, behind France and South Africa, the governing body has sent a clear message to its council members by unanimously declaring its support for South Africa, two weeks in advance of the last step in the bidding programme, the final vote.

In an effort to avoid the type of subterfuge that has followed similar bidding processes for the soccer World Cup and Olympic Games, rugby’s equivalent has attempted to be as clear and open as possible on this occasion as to why they are making their preference clear in advance of the council vote.

The fact the vote in London will be conducted by secret ballot adds an element of intrigue in what, to this point, has been a wholly transparent exercise. Unfortunately from an Irish perspective, the new audit process took no consideration of emotive issues such as how the event would unite the island, how the GAA made the bid process possible by making their stadia available and, most importantly of all, those stadia would be full for all the games.

Ireland’s biggest stumbling block appears to have been focused on the quality of the stadia put forward and the fact many are uncovered. The annoying thing is that Ireland had already submitted details of how many of the grounds in question would be upgraded with government backing to cover the cost involved.

If the decision to host a World Cup was based on the quality of stadia alone, New Zealand shouldn’t have been within an asses roar in 2011. Yes, South Africa has a really impressive quotient of top quality sporting arena’s but what good will they be if they are half empty for the games.

Given that Ireland’s bid appeared to have been extremely well received when it was unveiled in London last September, it’s a surprise they failed to top any of the five criteria set out in the audit process.

Despite that, it is clear that the Irish bid team are not for throwing the towel in just yet. Having travelled extensively to canvass constituent members over the course of the last few years and being extremely well received, it is clear that the evaluation commission ignored the intangible element of the Irish bid.

Commenting in advance of this decision a few weeks ago, the CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Union Steve Tew said: “It’s fair to say we will be heavily influenced by the recommendation of the technical review group. It seems odd to have an independent evaluation process done and ignore it.”

I sincerely hope Tew’s assessment proves incorrect on this occasion.


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