Why didn’t South Africa win the right to host Rugby World Cup 2023? That is the question being grappled at the moment because it seems, not for the first time, the country is pulling daggers from its back.
A World Rugby technical review committee scored South Africa’s bid the highest in an independent assessment and yet France won 24 votes to South Africa’s 15 when it came to the crunch. That was after Ireland dropped out in the first round.
“You’ll have to ask the delegates that voted against us that question because we were the preferred candidate,” SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said.
During the technical review, South Africa received an overall score of 78.97% after a comprehensive evaluation by an independent panel. France scored 75.88% and Ireland came in with 72.25% against a selection of weighted criteria. That should have been that.
World Rugby boasted that it was the most ‘transparent’ bidding process in its history, yet when it came to the actual vote, it was done in secret.
There is no doubt the outcome has undermined the organisation and the sport’s credibility and integrity. But when it comes to vying for major sporting events, history has shown that ‘integrity’ and ‘transparency’ are just words. Old boys’ networks and political favours are the currency that sports bids — rugby in this case — deal in.
Roux hinted that this was a vote decided by old alliances and returning favours — not on technical merits, which included an obscene guaranteed income for World Rugby from all three bids.
“We have said throughout that we would honour both the letter and the spirit of the process and we now consider the 2023 bidding process closed,” Roux said. “However, in the feedback sessions, I am sure we will be recommending to the World Rugby Council that the verdict of the evaluation committee become binding.
“World Rugby ran an exhaustive and transparent process for 15 months to identify the best host nation, only for the process to go entirely opaque for the past two weeks.”
What more could SA have done? The bid was deemed best and they lost. They won the race and were awarded silver medal.
Yes, the country has crime problems; it’s led by a president who is almost permanently under a cloud of corruption issues and is working through a very public ‘state capture report’ submitted by the former Public Protector.
The economy is struggling, unemployment is at 27.7% and the country is bordered by a state, Zimbabwe, that descended into a coup on the eve of the RWC 2023 vote.
The Springboks are struggling on the field and attendances at rugby matches are falling. Players are leaving to play in Europe, Britain and Japan by the dozen and the complicated question of racial quotas still confuses outsiders more than it does locals.
The South African government, which eventually underwrote the SA bid, initially withheld its blessing at the important ‘expression of interest stage’ early in 2016.
Then sports minister Fikile Mbalula (who is now the police minister) banned rugby from bidding for ‘mega events’ because it fell foul of racial transformation targets. It was a laughable situation, especially as rugby is the most audited sport in the country and had passed 11 of 12 criteria at the time an Eminent Persons Group report was handed to Mbalula.
Yet, through all of these and other problems, SA Rugby put together its bid book, won over national government and submitted a superb document. The evaluation committee’s scoring concurred.
None of those problems were hidden, as they can’t be in a country with a vibrant free press, and still they scored the highest.
But in west London over the past few days and in the weeks since SA was named the preferred bidder, the organisation chose to stay above the sniping, believing its technical case was strong enough to secure the vote.
“Of course we lobbied over the past few days, that’s part of the process when a vote’s involved,” Roux said. “But we were never going to stoop to attacking the other bids because that makes you look even more stupid if you lose.”
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont was in full spin mode by the time he faced the media, moving from the code of conduct, which all Council members signed. That code asked that members let the evaluation committee’s recommendation guide their
“The vote doesn’t make a mockery of the process because if you look at it there wasn’t a great deal between France and SA in the evaluation and the council members looked at that,” Beaumont said.
“From World Rugby’s point of view we feel that we have been absolutely transparent. Everyone was able to see the scoring of the evaluation and while they might have liked certain aspects of it, they disagreed with others. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with the process we have gone through. It has been open and transparent and we’re proud of it.
“We made a recommendation and that recommendation wasn’t accepted by Council even though it was extremely close between the two top candidates. We will learn as we move forward. This was the first time we embarked on this process and ultimately we agreed that the final decision would be a Council decision.”
SA Rugby’s leadership have indicated that the country are unlikely to bid for the tournament again in the near future.
After four consecutive failed bids the organisation and the country can’t go through it again, especially if all that matters is relying on old alliances and making enticing promises.
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