World Rugby risks its credibility being shot to pieces if the sport’s General Council does not endorse, by way of a vote, South Africa’s hosting of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
The Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL) Board unanimously recommended to the World Rugby Council the selection of South Africa as the preferred option ahead of France and Ireland.
The Council votes on November 15, but to vote against the recommendation would reduce the last 18 months to an insult to World Rugby’s governance and render the entire bidding process a farce.
It can only be hoped that World Rugby and Rugby World Cup Limited chairperson Bill Beaumont will privately have emphasised to the Council Members that the vote can’t be a horse trade and an event that turns back the clock on World Rugby’s stated ambition of being the most professionally governed of sports.
Beaumont was emphatic in stressing, by way of a World Rugby statement, that the host selection took place following a complete redesign of the bidding process, which was aimed at promoting greater transparency and maximising World Rugby’s hosting objectives.
It was telling how he described the victory of South Africa.
“The comprehensive and independently scrutinised evaluation identified South Africa as a clear leader based on performance against the key criteria, which is supported by the Board in the recommendation.”
Beaumont thanked France and Ireland for their bids and congratulated South Africa, describing South Africa’s bid as superb.
World Rugby’s leadership, in the hope of educating and inspiring rugby’s global audience, wanted absolute transparency of how each country’s bid was assessed and scored.
South Africa topped three of the five categories and two of the three primary categories. Ireland, seen as the emotive people’s choice, ranked last in all but one category and didn’t top one of the categories.
Yet, their leadership defiantly rejected World Rugby’s recommendation and publicly stated that there was confidence they’d be able to influence the Council to vote in their favour.
And herein lies World Rugby’s greatest challenge.
Why would the sport’s General Council Members go against the findings of the very same independent and technical committee they appointed to ensure there could be no claims of corruptness, of bias or of prejudice in determining which county best serves the needs of World Rugby as the 2023 host?
Why enlist experts and then disregard their finding?
The answer would be because of agendas and bias and prejudice …
World Rugby, in announcing South Africa’s victory, used words like ‘ground-breaking, rigorous and fully transparent’ to describe the working mechanics of the bid, as well as to give an assurance and a reassurance of the integrity of those who made up the Technical Review Committee.
“The evaluation of the detailed bid submissions has been led by a team of World Rugby and external experts. This was supported throughout by stringent independent evaluation and analysis from The Sports Consultancy to ensure evidence-based objectivity and consistent application against a set of weighted scoring criteria based on World Rugby objectives, which were agreed by the Board, noted by the Council and communicated to the host candidates,” stated World Rugby.
Every detail of the report is accessible to the public. Each category score has been made public; equally how each score was calculated.
South Africa did not buy a vote or manipulate emotion. It produced a compelling bid that scored the highest.
Ireland and France’s official response has a disregard for this, which should trouble World Rugby’s Board because it implies that back-handed deals could prove more compelling than the view of experts appointed and paid to give World Rugby market-related clarity, insight and expertise in determining the most appropriate 2023 World Cup host.
It’s about education and World Rugby has educated the Council Members, as well as a global audience by releasing the exhaustive and extensive analysis of each bid.
Ireland’s bid was emphatically third. France’s financial grandstanding has merit but not enough that it can be the only consideration because South Africa’s financial offering also ensures 2023 will be the most profitable in the tournament’s history.
Ireland’s bid technically was found wanting. It had nothing to do with lack of finance, or South Africa and France being cash heavy.
South Africa, from the outset, has trusted the intent of World Rugby in wanting to remove emotion, bias and prejudice. South Africa has believed in the authenticity of a bid process that is beyond the crass workings of one mate favouring another mate, and countries voting for individual gain, as opposed to what is best for World Rugby.
South African Rugby Union Chief Executive and bid leader Jurie Roux, when addressing the Council Members in London on September 25, told them that South Africa had only decided to bid because there would be a measurement of the quality of the bid that exceeded mere opinion.
Roux, in promoting the strength of South Africa’s bid, also put it on the record long before South Africa had won that there had to be an acknowledgement of the expertise that would determine the ranking of the three respective bidding countries.
Roux was confident South Africa would triumph but said that if the Technical Review Committee’s finding was not in favour of South Africa, then the country’s bosses would accept the recommendation.
If not, said Roux, then what was the last 18 months about?
November 15 in London is a vote about the 2023 World Cup host, but really it is more a vote about the integrity of the sport’s leadership, and by extension the sport’s governance.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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