Monday, December 6News That Matters

CHRIS FOY:  World Cup riches must be shared… the powers-that-be must find a balance 

Australia have officially launched their bid to host the 2027 World Cup. They needn’t break the bank with a lavish campaign — the tournament has their name on it already.

World Rugby are due to make a decision in May but it will be a formality. With Argentina out of the running, it comes down to Australia or Russia. No prizes for guessing which way that vote will go.

Seriously, though, the powers-that-be face a major dilemma when it comes to staging rights for the marquee tournament.

Australia have officially launched their bid to host the 2027 World Cup and they will win

Australia have officially launched their bid to host the 2027 World Cup and they will win

Australia have officially launched their bid to host the 2027 World Cup and they will win

They must somehow find a balance between expansionism and the need to bolster some of the traditional powerhouse nations who are struggling with financial hardship, isolation, or both.

Take South Africa. They have hosted the World Cup only once, in 1995. They were recommended by an independent technical committee as the best choice for the 2023 event but lost out to France due to murky, political horse-trading.

Now they are being deprived of the monetary boost associated with a visit by the Lions, so their plight is stark. The Springboks are world champions and the country is a hot-bed of the game which deserves support.

Then there’s Argentina, who are in limbo after a hurried revamp of Super Rugby left their Jaguares in the cold.

Their players are scattering again and they have been denied two home Tests against Wales this summer. They also need support and a look-in when it comes to deciding where the World Cup should be held.

There must be a drive to develop the Americas as a viable rugby region, not just a rush for perceived riches in the USA. That is why it would make sense to spread the 2031 tournament on a north-south axis, from Canada and America down to Argentina and Uruguay. The aligned time zones would make it viable, with pool matches in each country but Argentina also staging two quarter-finals, before semi-finals and the final in the USA.

The Sydney Opera House is seen illuminated as part of Australia's 2027 Rugby World Cup bid

The Sydney Opera House is seen illuminated as part of Australia's 2027 Rugby World Cup bid

The Sydney Opera House is seen illuminated as part of Australia’s 2027 Rugby World Cup bid

The one-nation hosting model has been a success, but it has reached the stage where a compromise may be required to allow more countries to enjoy the boost which comes from staging the showpiece.

Distributing the women’s and Under 20 World Cups to new territories is a positive initiative, but not on the same scale.

Japan 2019 was a resounding success — commercially and as a means of opening up the game to new markets in Asia.

In 2023, the emphasis will be on revenue, but World Rugby cannot keep reverting to France and England, even though the Covid pandemic has created such financial turmoil.

Australia can lay on a great show in 2027, but divert a few pool fixtures to the Pacific islands to create a joyous eruption of support as well as long-term goodwill.

Any diluting of the one-nation identity of the event would be more than eclipsed by the wider benefits.

Beyond potentially going to the Americas in 2031, there should be a desire to return to South Africa — with a few fixtures in neighbouring growth areas such as Namibia, Kenya and even Madagascar.

Only then, in 2039, should the World Cup return to Europe, with Italy capable of being a core host, but with Spain and Portugal considered, too. 

aul Chatfield, Reece Hodge of the Wallabies and Darren O'Brien at the bid function

aul Chatfield, Reece Hodge of the Wallabies and Darren O'Brien at the bid function

aul Chatfield, Reece Hodge of the Wallabies and Darren O’Brien at the bid function

Rejoice, the Six Nations will continue to be shown live on free-to-air television after a new broadcast deal with the BBC and ITV. This is great news for the profile of the game in this part of the world. The top Six Nations matches achieve eye-catching viewing figures of up to 10million in the UK — creating the sense of a truly national event.

Of course, administrators need to generate healthy income but there is no point creating short-term profits and long-term apathy. Instead, women’s and Under 20 fixtures will receive more exposure, too, as part of the new deal. With the Lions v Japan game on Channel 4 and now this, rugby is ensuring it stays visible.

All too often, beaten teams resort to a ‘taking the positives’ reaction and it is no more than a hollow attempt to save face, but Leicester were certainly entitled to that attitude after their European Challenge Cup final near-miss on Friday night.

There was no shame in losing by a point to Montpellier. Captain Tom Youngs said: ‘Everyone knows in the last eight years where Leicester have been going — we’ve been going down, but now we are going up again.’

He’s right. Pack power has been restored and Leicester rolled back the years at Twickenham, with their maul used as a potent weapon, in keeping with their heritage. They will rediscover how to win tight games and all the signs are that the biggest English club will be a force again soon.

Tom Youngs of Leicester Tigers warms up prior to the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final

Tom Youngs of Leicester Tigers warms up prior to the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final

Tom Youngs of Leicester Tigers warms up prior to the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final 

The last word

As well as exposure, what rugby needs is new icons and Toulouse may be able to assist with that.

After Europe’s first five-star club claimed the Champions Cup at Twickenham on Saturday, their scrum-half Antoine Dupont was named the continent’s Player of the Year, having claimed the Six Nations award last year. He and half-back partner Romain Ntamack are becoming poster-boys for club and country.

 In the past, Jonah Lomu, Jonny Wilkinson, Dan Carter and Brian O’Driscoll saw their names transcend the sport, but rugby lacks such box-office stars at present. Dupont and Ntamack could be on that path if they ignite a new dynasty at Toulouse and propel France to glory in their home World Cup in 2023.