RWC bid - Philip Browne: ‘We are hitting the buttons on a range of criteria’

Philip Browne doesn’t do extremes of emotion or hyperbole.

Picture: At the Royal Garden Hotel in South Kensington London for the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid presentation were bid chairman Dick Spring, IRFU chief executive Philip Browne, president Philip Orr and rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll, along with the rest of the Irish delegation. Picture: Billy Stickland/Inpho

So, take it as an encouraging sign that the IRFU chief executive stood in a hallway of the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington yesterday lunchtime reasoning that the Irish bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup was in a “reasonable state”.

Perceived favourites for the gig before they joined the French and South Africans in making yesterday’s official bid presentations to World Rugby’s Council, the Irish performance in the media Q&A afterwards was impressively slick and on point.

The word is that the earlier presentation went just as well.

“They understand what we are trying to say and what we are trying to do,” said Browne. “There was a reasonably warm, fuzzy feeling in the room if that is the right description. But ultimately it all boils down to a vote on November 15th, so who knows.”

Browne answered queries as to hotel rooms and stadia sizes with assurance. Plenty of the former, he assured, while the latter would be more than adequate and provide full houses with some tickets costing as little as €15.

Among the suggested venues is the still-to-be-redeveloped Casement Park in Belfast which has been lost in development hell but which Browne has been led to believe will be ready to open for business for 2020.

Still, ours isn’t a bid that will win because of stadia.

Ireland has never attempted anything of this size before but Browne insisted it amounted to a “risk-free” tournament for World Rugby who depend on the four-yearly extravaganza for in excess of 90% of their revenues.

The Irish government has already guaranteed the tournament fee of £120m. The state has also committed to underwrite the entire cost of the tournament and a significant proportion of the commercial package.

“So the entire financial package is money in the bank,” said Browne. “You could effectively bank that today.”

The French and South Africans are promising bigger sums again. That’s significant given the manner in which that money is used to develop the worldwide game and the concerns that Japan, as a nation, has been slow to embrace the idea of the 2019 event.

The Irish were not persuaded to dig deeper in response.

“To be fair, we’ve been really well received around the world,” said Browne. “People understand what we’re saying and they understand what we’re trying to do. Everyone is concerned about money, but it’s not all about money.

“And the technical criteria are not all about money. Money is only one portion of the assessment and it’s not the majority of the assessment. So, from that point of view, we are hitting the buttons on a whole range of criteria.”

Concerns over Brexit’s impact were dealt with by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who joined a high-profile bid team in the English capital, while Browne attempted to put to bed concerns that the country does not possess the number of hotel beds required.

Thankfully, the Irish bid has leaned on talk of craic and ‘Cead Mile Failtes’ only sparingly but there nonetheless a case to highlight unique virtues. Both Brian O’Driscoll and Browne leaned on the atmosphere that would be generated by a global tournament in such an environment.

“We had 110,000 people turn up for the ploughing championships in a field in Offaly last week,” said Browne. “In the rain. That’s the reality. We have a strong proposition, a new host. That can only enhance the credibility and the profile of the sport internationally. And also the tournament.” Another five weeks need to pass before Rugby World Cup Ltd announce their recommendation for the tournament and two more again before the World Rugby Council picks one from the three so the work isn’t all done yet.

The IRFU team will fly out to Buenos Aires to meet their Argentinian colleagues next weekend, bringing to an end an extensive and exhaustive global trek that has taken in everywhere from Australia to Ulan Bator.

“There are always going to be swing votes,” said Browne. “To be fair, all the people we visited said we’d really like to see what the outcome of the assessments are before they start promising their votes. I understand that. It would make a mockery of the process if they started offering their votes without seeing the assessments. So a lot of them are playing their cards close to their chests. But we have a good sense of who we think has an affinity with what we are trying to do and say. I can’t share that with you but we are in a reasonable state.”

It will take 20 of the 39 available votes to cross the line come November but history is full of sporting events which have been awarded to candidates deemed to be well behind in the running based on issues as concrete as infrastructure and finance.

All three bids will come under the eyes of neutral, independent and professional assessors in a bid to promote transparency and meritocracy this time - to ensure that it is the best and not the best-connected that wins out.

“I have great faith and greater faith in rugby that it is not going to fall into that trap in my view,” said Browne. “Rugby is above that. The majority of the rugby unions in the world are above that and I have great faith in the process.”

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