Ireland lost their bid to host the 2023 World Cup yesterday after a vote conducted by the World Rugby Council in London gave the tournament to France.
France defeated favourites South Africa, who had been recommended by the competition’s organising body to host the tournament, by 24 votes to 15 after a second round of voting. Ireland was eliminated at the first round of voting after securing just eight votes.
The decision is a bitter blow to the team behind Ireland’s bid, who had still been hopeful of pulling off a shock yesterday before the votes were cast. However, there is now a feeling that the prospect of a smaller nation hosting a World Cup is impossible due to the parameters laid out by World Rugby.
In their evaluation report last month, where they made South Africa the recommended hosts for the 2023 tournament, World Rugby ranked Ireland bottom of the three candidates.
The Irish bid particularly struggled with the venues and host cities category, while concerns over the tournament’s infrastructure hindered their score too.
Browne is now concerned that the importance of such criterion, and the World Rugby Council’s decision to go with France, suggest that smaller nations cannot compete when it comes to hosting the World Cup.
“Well the reality is unless you have big shiny new stadia, you have got to wonder why you would bid,” said Browne. “I think World Rugby need to decide what sort of a tournament they want and make sure that everyone understands what their vision is at the outset.
“Then we can decide whether we are going to bid again or not. You are at a disadvantage being a new host, number one, and number two, you are at a disadvantage if you don’t have a shiny new stadium.
“We lost five and a half points because we hadn’t done the necessary upgrades to our stadia. Yet, at the same time, our government had given a financial commitment and guarantees to actually do it. So it seems like a very harsh penalty.”
With these criteria laid out by the governing body as being pivotal to hosting a Rugby World Cup, Browne was asked if Ireland can’t bid again under such parameters.
“Yeah, I think you have just said — not under these parameters,” he replied.
The frustration for Ireland is born out of World Rugby clarifying what they want from a host candidate.
Indeed, it was put to Browne yesterday that France’s victory is an indication about how the World Cup is based around selecting the country that will generate the most revenue for those competing.
“That is almost a question that needs to be addressed to Rugby World Cup as to, what is their vision for the tournament?” said Browne.
“We had a vision for the tournament. I think a lot of people liked our vision for the tournament. But it obviously didn’t hit a chord with Rugby World Cup’s vision.
“World Rugby and Rugby World Cup need to decide what sort of tournament they want. Yes, there’s the commercial imperative but it shouldn’t be everything. Why should we not have a tournament? We can run a tournament perfectly well, a world-class tournament.
“And we can produce significant revenues and we showed that we can produce significant revenues for a Rugby World Cup. But listen, that’s a question that really needs to be directed at World Rugby.”
While there was obvious disappointment for Ireland yesterday in that they failed to win the right to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023, there was also discontent when it came to the voting itself. In the first round of voting Ireland gained just eight votes, compared to the 18 for France and the 13 recouped by South Africa.
Of their nearest neighbours, only England voted for Ireland, as Scotland backed France and Wales put their support behind South Africa.
Given their proximity Ireland would have been hoping for their support, but Browne admitted after their decisions can be explained.
“The bottom line is we are very disappointed that Scotland and Wales didn’t vote for us. They had reasons,” said Browne. “Scotland wanted to go for the money. Wales wanted to effectively support [WRU chairman] Gareth Davies who was part of the evaluation process.
“To be fair to Scotland, they said consistently they wanted to wait until the evaluation report was produced and they also have consistently said that they would go with the bid that produced the greatest amount of revenue for the Rugby World Cup.
“In terms of Wales, the situation was again they wanted to see what the evaluation report was like and what the outcome of that was.
“Obviously I think they felt duty bound to support Gareth Davies who was on the board of the Rugby World Cup and part of the evaluation process. I can understand where they are coming from.”
Said bid chairman Dick Spring: “That’s the big disappointment really from all of this, that we didn’t get the support of the home nations. I would have thought after a century and a half of co-operation between Ireland, Scotland and Wales that we would have got their support. We were caught in the middle of a crossfire there.”
Mr Browne added: “I think we have to congratulate our governments in the north of Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland — and indeed the government here in the UK who gave us huge support. They did everything that they could and it has been a good experience. It’s not to be, our race is now run and today belongs to France.”