IRFU chief Philip Browne believes Ireland’s willingness to host the Women’s Rugby World Cup in two years’ time - confirmation of which emerged yesterday – will boost the island’s chances of being the chosen venue for the equivalent men’s event in 2023.
The Irish union has already announced its intention to bid for the men’s version. World Rugby will invite tenders worldwide in 2016 and will then decide on the winning nation some time in mid-2017, before the Women’s tournament is held in Dublin and Belfast.
How the women’s event itself plays off in two years’ time is, therefore, less important than the fact that Ireland has shown itself to be a ‘team player’ in the global rugby community, according to Browne who is the IRFU’S chief executive.
“We will obviously be judged on our performance in the 2017 World Cup,” he said yesterday. “But, at the end of the day, it is a statement of intent on our part in that we are willing to support World Rugby and its international tournament programme.
“And also, number two, (it is) a statement of intent on our part that we are a 32-county sport and that we can operate across the border and as a single unit and that is all very important to be able to demonstrate.”
UCD and Donnybrook will host the pool stages, Queens University Belfast and Kingspan Park have been designated as the venues for the semi-final and final, but the logistics involved in all that are chalk and cheese compared to the requirements for 2023.
Only 12 teams will compete across three pools in 2017 and the boost from it in terms of tourist numbers and euros to the exchequer will be minimal. The men’s World Cup is the third biggest sporting occasion in the world after the Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.
It remains to be seen who the competitors will be when the tenders invite for 2023 closes at the end of next year. World Rugby refuses to identify possible or confirmed bidders on “commercially sensitive” grounds, but South Africa and France are both known to be in the frame.
The IRFU have not been shy in declaring Ireland’s candidacy for either 2017 or 2023, however.
“Our view is why hide your light? We are better off getting out there saying this is what we want to do, (that) this is our ambition and we are looking for the support of the nation and sponsors and the peoples’ support and we have managed to generate a lot of that already,” said Browne.
“There is a lot of excitement about what we are doing. It is not an IRFU project, it is a national project. From that point of view, it had to be said.”
That Ireland should be even contemplating a bid for an event of the 2023 World Cup’s size marks a seismic change in strategic thinking on the IRFU’s part,and Brown admits that it was the last tournament four years ago that kickstarted the process.
“If I was to be honest, I would say being at the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. We saw what they did out there with facilities that are probably not the same in quality or in number as we have here. Don’t forget we have got the GAA on board for 2023 and an incredible range of stadia all around the country, which people outside the country generally know nothing about.
“Also, Croke Park which is fundamental to the 2023 bid with its 82,000-capacity stadium. So, when you looked at facilities and the size of the country we thought why can’t we do it. We invested a lot of money in a feasibility study and the people involved in that started off being very sceptical and by the end they were as enthusiastic as we were.”
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