Japan being awarded the rights to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup was indeed a masterstroke by the powers that be.
With two years still to go, the game has already grown in leaps and bounds in not just the country itself but Asia as a whole.
Rugby will now be taken seriously by giant nations such as China and even India and marketed in this area of the world for the betterment of the game.
This was actually the prime motivation for staging the tournament in the continent - to grow the sport and ensconce it closer to football’s popularity than ever before.
Fast forward to the awarding of the follow-up tournament in 2023 - alas, after such a positive step forward, the game has in an instant, taken 10 steps backward. France were announced as hosts after edging bidding rivals South Africa and Ireland in what seems to be a general outrage worldwide, particularly on our very own shores.
The reasons you may ask? For one, the French just hosted the cup a mere 10 years ago. It actually seems like yesterday when John Smit lifted the Webb Ellis Cup at the Stade de France (the same stadium will again be used for the 2023 final #boring) and for the country to host again so soon smacks of the sport being run by the ‘old boys club’ with no room for growth and any outsiders. Similar accusations were thrown about as recently as 2011 when New Zealand got their second bite at the cherry.
Another reason that has provoked the ire of fans (specifically our very own fans) is that World Rugby categorically recommended South Africa as recently as two weeks ago as the perfect hosts. The South African bid was actually the most solid of the three, superior in key bid variables and outscored their two rivals overall.
Do we smell a rat here? Something fishy much?
If one of these three had to host then South Africa, who hosted as far back as 1995, should have edged it.
However, in my humble opinion, the game needs to grow and thus none of these countries should have even been in the running.
Roll back the clock to USA 94 - the Soccer World Cup had finally made its way to North America. That tournament did absolute wonders for the game and took football to new levels, particularly in popularity terms. If the sport wasn’t as popular as it is today, that particular event catapulted it to the unchartered echelons that it enjoys today. At the time, the Olympic Games was easily the most watched event on planet earth but has since been overtaken and then some, by the quadrennial FIFA showpiece. America’s hosting went a long way to making that happen.
Hosting rights for 2023 should have been contested between America (possibly in conjunction with Canada where rugby is very popular), Argentina (obvious choice as a rugby powerhouse and the opportunity to take the World Cup to yet another new continent; a country that also hosted Soccer World Cups before) and possibly Italy (a tier one nation who has all the facilities). All three would also be financial successes for World Rugby, especially in the USA.
Yes South Africa has hosted successful world tournaments before and would bea welcome panacea in the current unstable political climate but for the overall health of the game itself, the nations mentioned above need to take the reins and welcome the rest of the world while proving that rugby is not run by the perceived old boys club, as Joel Stransky eluded to as well. Ireland would have been my second choice but this will also in a way be a step in the wrong direction with that part of the world (Britain and surrounds) already having hosted so many World Cups previously (1991 - with quite a few matches on Irish shores, 1999, 2015). The Millennium Stadium would have probably been utilised YET AGAIN as seems to be the case with every second World Cup. Very annoying and very unfair that Wales get to stage so many World Cup games, even when they are not the host country. Don’t be surprised if this occurs in 2023 as happened in 2007 in France.
I urge World Rugby to take into consideration the need to grow the sport and take it to the rest of the world. Stop juggling the game’s biggest tourney between a few elite countries!
What next, England in 2027? That would be an utter disgrace!
Allow the game that we all know and love to flourish for goodness sake! There are new legacies to be made!
Dhirshan Gobind is a respected freelance sports writer. He is a writer for ‘The Post’, ‘Galaxy News, ‘SAFA Digital’ and writes regular opinion columns on Sport24.