The road to hell is paved with good intentions. With one eye on the shenanigans at Fifa, World Rugby were determined to be seen as squeaky clean when it came to handing out the 2023 Rugby World Cup. To this end they appointed a sports consultancy firm, helpfully called “Sports Consultants”, to independently analyse the merits of the three competing countries: France, Ireland and South Africa.
Their recommendation was supposed to take the habitual horse trading out of the equation ahead of the World Rugby council vote on 15 November, but no-one seems to have taken much notice. Despite coming third, well behind the other two bids, Ireland’s Taoiseach and bid chairman Dick Spring both insisted they would press ahead regardless.
The French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte was even more dismissive of the report – which rated South Africa’s bid as the clear leader – calling it “nonsense”, “full of blatant errors” and the result of “incompetence”. When you’ve already spent £4 million odd on your bid, you tend to be a sore loser.
According to one source France were already claiming to have the 20 votes required sewn up well before last week’s announcement; according to another source so too were Ireland. Two entirely different sources said that both France and Ireland had laid claim to Scotland’s three votes long before the Scottish Rugby board met to make their final decision.
If France do win the council vote, World Rugby would look as bad as its round-ball equivalent, and don’t believe it can’t happen; bear in mind that World Rugby merely asks voting parties to be aware of the recommendation, there is no requirement to follow it.
New Zealand have stated they will play by the book, and their union’s chief executive Steve Tew has said as much. Australia are expected to follow suit, which would mean six votes for South Africa. But Ireland and France will call in every favour they can to secure the nine votes held by England, Scotland and Wales. If the home nations vote en masse, things may yet sway Europe’s way.
The breakdown of the suffrage itself is interesting because the six regions hold 12 votes between them. They don’t usually have much influence in world rugby so may enjoy flexing their muscles and could go a long way towards deciding the outcome.
The real problem comes with the vote itself, which is a secret ballot, so any unscrupulous nation/region could promise all three countries their backing in return for favours and no-one would be any the wiser as to whether they had done so or not. If the ballot were open and transparent then at least any horse trading would be blatant.
South Africa wanted the process to end after the consultants’ recommendation, to do away with the council vote thereafter, but the other two bidders refused to countenance such an idea.
Since the consultants ticked their box last Tuesday, the South Africans have again urged Ireland and France to take the moral high ground and quit any further campaigning.
So far, neither country has shown any signs of doing anything of the sort.