Cape Town – The subsidence of South Africa toward an
innocuous “lower-tier” rugby nation, something previously unheard of, may have
the unintended effect of bolstering the country’s bid to host the 2023 World
World Rugby reveals the successful applicant in less than a
year now – November 2017 – and don’t be too surprised if the Springboks’
plummet down the pecking order during 2016 helps earn the country a more
sympathetic stance for RWC 2023 in the World Rugby corridors, rather than the
other way around.
The global rugby community remains a reasonably limited, slow-moving
and similar-flavoured one, particularly as far as established superpowers are
concerned; under the circumstances, the supposed giant of South Africa taking
such an undignified tumble is not really good news for anyone.
We already know that there is real consternation in New
Zealand, for example, around the Boks’ demise as their bilateral rivalry is
supposed to form an integral part of the tapestry of international rugby and a
weakened SA rugby, in broad terms, has harmful spinoffs to the game on the
smaller terrain of the easily top-ranked nation at present.
It is bad enough that the All Blacks are currently smashing
most comers -- give or take the odd hiccup like their Chicago loss to Ireland
recently -- but the Boks have also won only two of the last 15 bilateral Test
encounters, in what is meant to be arguably the
blue-chip rivalry in rugby.
This year’s two Rugby Championship encounters were
especially, depressingly lopsided, with New Zealand winning 41-13 in
Christchurch and widening the gap even more by prevailing 57-15 in Durban.
“When South Africa plays New Zealand, consider the countries
at war,” Boy Louw reportedly said in 1949, during the decades-long era when the
rivalry was a truly neck-and-neck one.
If it’s any kind or war right now, it can more accurately be
branded only a phoney one.
The gloomy picture in SA rugby isn’t confined solely to the
unusually deep woes of the national team, with financial, attendance,
sponsorship and player-staffing instability rife across the country’s Super
Rugby franchises and bloated array of provinces.
Throw in the predatory lure of stronger-currency overseas
clubs, plus constant fears and accusations around the moral and competency
credentials of administrators, and it is little wonder that the general climate
around rugby in the country is marked by an unprecedented sense of gloom with
fast turnaround an unlikely phenomenon.
More and more, I believe South Africa needs the considerable
pick-me-up, in a constructive variety of senses, that knowledge of a “banked”
home World Cup some seven years up the line would automatically bring.
The country has the necessary, rugby-specific and
tourism-related infrastructure to be able to latch onto the task pretty comfortably,
buoyed also by the natural, particularly globally-admired public “buzz” that
has accompanied previous major events like the soccer World Cup in 2010 and the
country’s treasured last hosting of RWC in 1995.
World Rugby won’t want South Africa, with its still
potentially massive rugby culture and depth of foundations, to become too faint
on the planet’s radar – it will hardly be unaware of the tonic confirmation of
RWC 2023 as theirs would provide in dark times.
Yes, there are political uncertainties, given Sports
Minister Fikile Mbalula’s currently in-force ban on several federations –
including rugby -- bidding for major tournaments, but SARU are by all accounts
pressing forth anyway with stage-by-stage requirements in the process and I,
personally, do not envisage transformation concerns ultimately standing in the
way if South Africa remains a hot favourite.
Of course due process still has to be followed, and South
Africa is involved in a three-horse race (Italy pulled out recently) with
Ireland and France for rights to hosting that event.
The Irish bid looks increasingly compelling, with their own
team a rising force to be reckoned with, access to impressive, ultra-modern
multisport stadiums that could be easily adapted, and an almost guaranteed,
heady “vibe” likely if they get it.
Ireland has only ever previously been a partial host at
World Cup level, with occasional pool or knockout fixtures, whilst France’s big
drawback, you would think, is the fact that they had still-recent RWC 2007.
South Africa would not have staged RWC for 28 years by the
time 2023 comes around, and if, for instance, either of Ireland or the French won
the bid it would be an unprecedented third successive World Cup north of the
As I said, I fancy our “walking wounded” status is an
inadvertent help, more than hindrance.
After three successive failed bids (2011, 2015 and 2019) my
money is on fourth time lucky.
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