Sunday is traditionally the day of prayer and three delegations of rugby executives will undoubtedly take succour in that tradition today as they put the finishing touches to their bids to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup before they take one last chance to impress World Rugby, with their final presentation in London tomorrow.
South Africa, France and Ireland are the final three candidates and all have their merits but only one will attract what is arguably the third biggest sporting event on the planet to their back garden in just six years time.
The three bids will be evaluated against seven criteria:
1 Venues and infrastructure.
2 Public and private sector guarantees.
3 Commercial success.
4 Operational excellence.
5 Inspiration that grows the game.
6 An enabling political environment and financial stability.
7 An environment and climate suited to top level sport in a geography that allows maximum fan mobility.
France and South Africa are probably a little ahead of Ireland on categories number one and seven but you could see the Africans docked marks on number six given the political and financial turmoil in the republic.
The bidders do not get to vote so that leaves a total of 39 votes up for grabs, divided as follows: Scotland, Wales, England, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Argentina all get three votes. Japan and the six regions all get two votes. Canada, USA, Georgia and Romania all get one vote.
The first country to secure the magic number of 20 votes will take the prize. In the event that there is no majority winner in the first round of votes, the country with the lowest number of votes will drop out of the race, leaving just two in the second ballot. In the unlikely event that the vote is tied between the final two candidates the chairman of World Rugby, Englishman Bill Beaumont, has the casting vote.
The South African bid document ran to 827 pages but even that was trumped by Ireland’s 900-page colossus, so to save the good folk at World Rugby a little time and trouble we have cobbled together a rough guide to the three bids.
Previous: 1995… one of the best ever World Cups, for geopolitical reasons rather than the rugby although that wasn’t bad either.
USP: Perseverance. The SARU bid for the tournament in 2011, they did so again in 2015 and lost to Japan in 2019. This is the fourth World Cup in succession that South Africa has bid for.
On the upside: Having hosted the football World Cup in 2010 the infrastructure is all present and correct. South Africa is the only nation, along with England, to have hosted the football World Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the Cricket World Cup.
On the downside: Not long ago the president of the country Jacob Zuma won a narrow parliamentary vote of no confidence. The ANC government is beset by scandal and Zuma sacked his well regarded minister of finance Pravin Gordhan, a prominent campaigner against corruption.
They say: “South Africa has the hunger and capacity to host this tournament like no other country on earth.” – Jurie Roux, CEO SARU.
We say: Nothing they do in 2023 can match the sheer drama of President Nelson Mandela, pictured, presenting Francois Pienaar with the William Webb Ellis Cup while sporting his own Springboks shirt.
Previous: Yes, hosted in 2007, a week ago last Wednesday, or so it seems.
USP: The French are playing this one for laughs.
On the upside: The facilities are superb and French weather is nice that time of year.
On the downside: Where to start? The president of the FFR Bernard Laporte, pictured, is being investigated after he lobbied to reduce sanctions on Montpellier while their billionaire owner Mohed Altrad was in a business relationship with him. On 5 September the FFR tweeted that they boasted the best technical bid, two days later they issued a grovelling apology and retracted the claim. President Emmanuel Macron and All Black legend Daniel Carter have distanced themselves from the bid so up steps... seven-year-old Dhyreille Lomu, son of Jonah and born in France, who is said to be making a speech. World Rugby requires income guarantees of £120 million so France have guaranteed £150m, which just looks like they are trying to buy it.
They say: “If we are awarded the World Cup it will accelerate our political changes with the professional championship in France. If we don’t change the rules in five years or ten years all South African, Australian and New Zealand players will play in France or England.” – Claude Atcher, head of the French bid.
We say: Is that a threat?
Previous: Never hosted on their own.
USP: See above… and their promise to sell every one of the 2.2 million tickets with prices starting at a very reasonable €15.
On the upside: Hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup exclusively in Ireland would break new ground for the game and give hope to other smaller nations that they can follow suit. And, importantly, the Irish government is putting its money behind the bid with guarantees. Both semi-finals and the final are scheduled for Croke Park, pictured, the home of the Gaelic Athletic Association, which boasts a whopping 82,300 capacity and hosted rugby previously when Lansdowne Road was being rebuilt. And you fancy the Irish will get behind it with their habitual enthusiasm so the whole shindig should be highly entertaining both on and off the field.
On the downside: The facilities don’t match those on offer in France and South Africa even if the €65 million set aside for upgrades is spent wisely. Ticket sales would be lower than in France: 2.2 million versus 2.5 million. The sheer weight of numbers – Ireland are expecting something in the region of 450,000 visitors – will surely test the island’s infrastructure although hoteliers have promised not to gouge visiting fans by more than 20 per cent… apparently.
They say: “It’s about what we can do to increase the footprint of rugby in America.” – Philip Browne, Irish Rugby chief executive.
We say: No. It’s not. It’s about hosting the best Rugby World Cup that Ireland can manage.
All three countries have their merits and we will never know what deals have been struck behind closed doors, but it seems that France won the big prize not so very long ago. The Laporte scandal was big news across the channel and tough to sweep under the carpet given the stench it caused. It maybe shouldn’t matter but Paris hosts the 2024 Olympics and that will prey on a few minds.
South Africa remains a hotbed of rugby despite the problems surrounding their national team but their own government is mired in sleaze. World Rugby could hold their nose and award them the prize but Ireland are confident and with good cause.
The Irish have dragged themselves up the rankings to become a world force in the game, beating all three southern hemisphere giants just last year. There is a feeling that if they don’t win the 2023 World Cup they won’t bother jumping through all those hoops again and, let’s not forget, World Rugby’s offices are handily based in Dublin.