RWC 2023: ‘SA needs something big’

2015-12-11 22:30
Jurie Roux (Gallo)
Cape Town - The recent 2015 World Cup in England and Wales will be a challenging act to follow, but South Africa is set fair for a concerted assault on bagging the 2023 event - 28 years after the indelible memories of RWC 1995.

That is the assurance of SARU CEO Jurie Roux, who spent much time in the UK during September and October gathering intelligence for the expected SA bid for the follow-up tournament to Japan-staged RWC 2019 - the host will be known in around two years’ time.

Here is the first instalment of the Sport24 interview; part two will be run tomorrow ...

What were your broad impressions, as SARU CEO, of RWC 2015?

I would say from an organisational point of view, probably the best event I have been to. Just from a day-to-day operational aspect, general working of the event itself and even in the build-up ... everything was on time; they hit every deadline. We had very few hiccups in the event. Of the World Cups I have been to, this was the best by far.

It seemed to do well commercially, and world rugby broadly seems in a healthy space ...

Yes, I mean London is a very unique city and it has the ability to generate revenue. Obviously with the pound being so strong, the commercial argument is always a very strong one in London. It is well documented that it has commercially been the biggest World Cup ever, had the most tickets sold, and had a slightly different commercial plan where the RFU was incentivised to actually push it past the normal guarantees and limits. So business-wise, it was a huge success. There is a bit of a catch in that ... World Rugby works on a four-year-forward cycle, so all of the funding for World Rugby in the last four years was on the back end of the planning of RWC 2015. So other than the very last uptake in tickets and commercial value, all of that has been spent over four years. We now enter a new cycle and yes, there will be some money left from RWC 2015, but the new cycle works on the planning of the 2019 World Cup. That is obviously a completely different commercial argument.

Did the latest World Cup only strengthen your resolve to nail it down for 2023?

Just from an aspirational point of view, yes. I mean, you look at everything and ask yourself: can we do this? We’ve staged major events before, we’ve got the stadiums ... great venues in our country, actually. We have the people to do it, and we’ve definitely got the climate to be able to stage something like that. But there is also a little bit of a fear aspect in there: commercially it will be a tough act to follow, and not necessarily just Japan (next in 2019) ... you know, purely from a commercial aspect all World Cups should be centred on London, because we would make enough money to run world rugby for four years every year! It’s a tough commercial act to follow. But in other respects, I think our country is in desperate need of something big, something positive in the sporting environment. There’s a strong sentimental (argument) in our favour, obviously ... we will always struggle to compete in currency terms to the Euro, pound and dollar, but by 2023, we would not have had a World Cup in Africa for almost 30 years. And we are the biggest rugby-playing country in Africa, the natural selection for a tournament. We need to spread the game. If we can take it to Asia, with an already reduced commercial outlook (for 2019) – perhaps there will be 20 to 30 percent less value out of the Japan World Cup – then if that argument holds, it should hold for Africa as well. Rugby is developing at a high pace in countries north of South Africa and it would be great to bring it back to the continent.

Just how much of an impediment is our currency weakness? A few years ago on a visit here, Bernard Lapasset (chairman of World Rugby) seemed very bullish to the media about South Africa getting 2023, but the rand was a fair bit more competitive then ...

Well, I think on delivering the guarantee and getting the agreements in place in terms of your broadcasting and sponsorship, it is not such a major issue – you are still selling value. Whether that value is sold in London, Tokyo, Johannesburg or Cape Town doesn’t really matter. There’s a certain value; it gets broadcasted all over the world, the same amount of eyes will see it, we’re in a favourable place from a time-zone point of view. So that (currency) value is perhaps not the real issue. The real issue is in your ticketing, and the affordability of it, and the amount of money that would come out of that. In England the amount that came out in that respect in was ridiculous; it was great value. That would be our biggest challenge. But in the process and roll-out, the new commercial model of the next World Cup has completely changed, and in actual fact in the tender you hand in, you have to provide your preferred commercial model – there is no finite model. So all of your candidates can come forward with one, and World Rugby will take that into consideration along with all of the other factors. Yes, the currency plays a big role, but it is also more than that.  

When will we know who banks 2023?

The process has been brought a little bit forward in terms of when the decision will be made, so hopefully we will know by the end of 2017. We all had to give our intentions of interest as the first step, then we all took part in an observer programme for a full week in the latest World Cup, where we had representatives of SA Rugby and also SASCOC present. The tender documentation will come out in the first or second quarter of next year; you will have to give your intention to tender by the third quarter. All of your documentation must be in by mid-2017 and the decision comes at Council level in November that year. That is basically the process. It leaves you a fair amount of time in making the decision of whether you finally will tender, and then jump through the other hoops in getting SASCOC , Department of Sport and Recreation and ultimately Government support.

What about the effect of the Commonwealth Games in Durban, only a year earlier than RWC 2023?

It is obviously something to consider, and the effect that will have on Government, and funding that has to flow from that. I think personally that the events should actually enhance each other and not be a stumbling block. But we need to talk to Government, the stakeholders, all of the unions and the cities you would like to see hosting RWC matches, to get everyone on board. That’s the key: get everyone on board from the word go, rather than further down the line. Sell it once you have complete buy-in.

Does the traditional north-south (hemispheres) rotation from one World Cup to another work in our favour, especially considering that the northern hemisphere will for the first time have had two in a row after England 2015 and Japan 2019?

There might have been an unwritten rule like that at some stage, but it doesn’t actually (apply). There will be four bidders, I think ... initially there were six indicating interest but only four went onto the observer programme recently, plus Japan who had to be there for 2019. The others are France, Italy and Ireland. In the end everybody mentioned will go for it ... they all want it, for various reasons. Italy has never had it, France had it in 2007, and Ireland, who have never had it, boast a strong commercial case. Their bid will be competitive. But as for that rotation theory ... let’s just say that these days nothing is guaranteed. It will come to some bidding, and probably some politics as well, unfortunately.

We have seen on the cricket front, with India, that their major muscle in several respects seems to be earning them a greater portion these days of ICC tournaments ...

I have to tell you I don’t see that kind of strong-arming happening in World Rugby at this moment. I mean, we do have the traditional north-south split in terms of allegiance, but there is no one, single (country) that is that powerful. Yes, the All Blacks are overpowering everyone on the field at present, and yes, the RFU is financially very strong in England but in the end we’ve got an abundance of new regions that are opening. We have just changed our governance model in terms of voting to make us more compliant in terms of the Olympic Charter, and being more accessible and everybody getting a better vote and a better system. Oregan (Hoskins, the SARU president) was chairman of that sub-committee. So I think we are going in the other direction, and it very much driven by the fact that we are now an Olympic sport.

The 2003 Cricket World Cup in these parts was an “African” one despite South Africa being main hosts: Kenya and Zimbabwe were also drawn in. Could you see 2023 perhaps being a “southern African” RWC if we get it, with Namibia and others getting some involvement?

I wouldn’t have said “World Cup coming back to Africa” if we weren’t thinking along those lines. But it would more our closer neighbours, perhaps ... Namibia, Zimbabwe, even possibly Botswana. Perhaps they might get a match, or a venue. Once again, it’s cost versus commercial value. But no, you don’t claim an African World Cup and then host it solely in South Africa.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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