IRFU chief executive Philip Browne has refused to countenance whether the union would regroup and launch a fresh bid for the 2027 Rugby World Cup in the event that its bid to play host to the 2023 tournament fails to get the go-ahead later this year.
South Africa and France are the other nations seeking to win the right to welcome the global rugby fraternity in six years’ time and World Rugby’s Technical Review Group are currently in the process of conducting visits to all three countries ahead of the vote next November.
It was Ireland’s turn this week.
“Listen, we’re only focusing on 2023,” said Browne on the back of two days of meetings, presentations and site visits held for the governing body’s five-strong fact-finding mission. “To be looking ahead to 2027, there is a lot of water that has to go under the bridge before then so we’re focusing on 2023.”
The IRFU rolled out luminaries, including Brian O’Driscoll, and fitted in a trip to Áras an Uachtaráin as well as Croke Park and Aviva Stadium in the effort to impress a technical group that also had to file through updates on finance and governance, commercial rights, ticketing strategy, and much, much more.
Guarantees are expected in all shapes and forms from wannabe hosts but the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and how it affects the island of Ireland is one issue that no-one, not the IRFU nor the government, can predict as the British government wades through unchartered, choppy waters.
“While it wasn’t asked directly, we covered it off indirectly,” said Browne who once again praised the cross-border efforts of all parties involved in the Irish bid. “No-one knows at this stage how Brexit is going to manifest itself. The one thing we do have is a commitment from the governments in the Republic of Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive and indeed Whitehall in the UK to ensure that nothing will stand in the way to make this a seamless competition on both sides of the border.”
That all-island aspect has been played up by the IRFU as an unique selling point and Browne has also stated that awarding the tournament to a new territory would back up the governing body’s insistence it is striving to grow the game.
Ultimately, however, it is money that talks and the union’s planned targeting of the huge Irish diaspora in North America may well be up there among its most persuasive arguments when it comes to making a definitive impression.
“An important element is going to be accessing markets rugby has maybe struggled to access in the past. And, again, we have a diaspora of 70 million, 35 million of whom live in the US and another four-and-a-half million in Canada, who, as we know, activate around all things Irish.
“And we already have some significant plans to not only bring them to Ireland, but to also bring the World Cup out of Ireland to them,” Browne added. “So there are lots of things that we can do which are quite innovative.”
A veritable mountain of information has been made public about the Irish bid: the €127m Government guarantee to World Rugby, the 445,000 expected visitors to Irish shores and the estimated €800m the event will supposedly be worth to the island, north and south.
Work on the Irish bid has been ongoing in one form or another since 2012.
The finished bid file is to be finalised between now and June 1 when the document is to be submitted to World Rugby’s offices - in Dublin, which is handy - and a final presentation is to be made to Rugby World Cup and the World Rugby council in late September.
Ultimately, it all comes down to votes: 37 of them, or 39 if a motion proceeds granting Japan and Argentina a third vote each - as is the case with current tier one nations - gets the green light when the council votes on that in May.
Rugby World Cup will make a single recommendation before hands go up in the air.
Meanwhile, Browne confirmed that discussions are “ongoing with various parties in North America” over the potential establishment of a Guinness PRO12 franchise in the region. Talk of one American and one Canadian club that would compete in the PRO12 resurfaced last month.
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