Nobody should really be surprised the board of World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, has recommended South Africa as its unanimous choice to host the 2023 World Cup.
The recommendation, announced yesterday, will be presented to World Rugby’s council on November 15 for its 39 delegates to vote on with the South Africans now in pole position to be endorsed as tournament hosts for the second time in 30 years.
France is also hoping to stage the event but at least can have the 2024 Paris Olympics to focus on.
Ireland, of course, are the big losers in all of this.
Dublin may be staging four games for football’s multi-city 2020 Uefa European Championships but the honour of staging the world’s fourth-biggest sporting event for the first time appears elusive.
It was a chance for Ireland to welcome the world with a bid backed by governments north and south, attracting supporters for a six-week jamboree that would showcase the very best we had to offer over a sustained period of time.
Ireland’s appeal, slickly presented to World Rugby and the sport’s global media outlets in London at the end of September, answered all the technical criteria laid out by the tournament organisers and also highlighted the romance of bringing a World Cup to these shores, the rugby heritage of one of the oldest Test-playing nations and the reach such a tournament would have in non-traditional rugby countries through its diaspora of 70 million people worldwide who claim Irish descent, most notably in the sport’s great untapped market of North America.
Rugby World Cup is at the core of World Rugby’s modus operandi, its greatest shop window and a four-yearly opportunity to take the sport to regions it normally doesn’t reach. Gaining the attention of millions of Irish Americans in six years is an appealing prospect, yet Ireland has no divine right to stage a World Cup. The days of romance surrounding the hosting of a multi-million euro global sporting event are long gone. Money talks, and not even the sort of under-the-counter cash that has historically bolstered bids in other major sporting bidding wars.
Even in this most transparent of contests run by World Rugby to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, Ireland has been gazumped by cold, hard currency of the over the counter variety.
While Ireland met World Rugby’s minimum bid guarantee of €120m, France topped them by €30m and the South Africans offered a guaranteed €160m for the right to stage.
That extra €40m can go a long way given 90% of what World Rugby does in every four-year cycle between World Cups is financed by the previous tournament. It has not always awarded it to the highest bidder, they cannot afford to mess it up.
So though Ireland’s bid scored well on the technical evaluation in terms of its “vision and hosting concept” that criteria, one of five, counted for only 10% of the final score each bid received with the Irish failing to gain top marks in any.
The writing appears to be on the wall. And on the World Rugby spreadsheet but a bit of old-school wheeler-dealing may still have a place in a modern bidding process.
This is may be a new, transparent system yet the final say will come down to how the 39 council votes are cast in a secret ballot. And that means anything is possible.
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