The Rugby World Cup host nation selection is becoming a serious conundrum for World Rugby, with questions being asked of the integrity of the process.
The Rugby World Cup Host Nation Selection Conundrum
This article does not seek to validate any particular 2023 Rugby World Cup host nation selection bid, but rather to question some of the grey areas in the process. This is by no means an exhaustive examination of the bidding process, but does highlight some of the interesting conflicts that have been raised since South Africa was named as the preferred host of Rugby World Cup 2023.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) October 31, 2017
The process itself
There is a problem in the way the host nation selection process has been structured. World Rugby invested a lot, financially and in terms of responsibility, in an independently run technical review of all bidding nations. Bids were evaluated according to set criteria, each carrying a specific weighting to come to an overall result. All bidding nations were aware of those criteria and weightings and there were no surprises after bids were submitted.
Below, we have the final scores for each nation’s bid. Every nation scored well in certain areas and lower than in others. Based on the criteria each bid would be evaluated on and the weighting of each criteria, a clear hierachy was established, with South Africa being placed in the top spot, France second and Ireland last, or third if you prefer.
The reality that World Rugby faces is the embarrassment if their preferred bidder, selected on the strength of their bid process and the predetermined scoring process, does not get to host the Rugby World Cup after a vote by Council. A vote that can be influenced by emotion and other factors. Just ask FIFA. Set your personal preference of host nation aside and think about that.
Below, a few questions are raised.
The Irish were quick to point out South Africa’s crime rate after the announcement, but this was a sub-segment of the scoring process. Security has many more elements than just the overall crime rate. Some have also pointed out the France are at risk of terrorist attacks (as has been the case in the past), but the Irish contingent have not pointed this out.
Many regard this as a low blow, especially considering the successful world events South Africa has presented in the past without any major security breaches.
Alongside South Africa, France are able to host games at stadiums that meet the criteria set by World Rugby. All but two of Ireland’s stadiums do not meet the criteria set by World Rugby. This is a serious issue for a very simple reason. All bidding nations were aware what World Rugby required in terms of stadiums. To present a bid that did meet those requirements cannot be overlooked lightly, especially considering how the IRFU have unpacked the South African bid.
Rotation of hosting
Ireland can rightfully claim that they have never had the privilege of being the sole host of the Rugby World Cup. As a rugby nation, they have grown from strength to strength both in European competitions as well as at Test level and certainly do deserve the recognition.
In 2023, it would have been 28 years since South Africa have last hosted the Rugby World Cup and 16 years in the case of France. The balance between the financial and administrative appeals of any bid and the need to spread the event around the world and introduce it to different cultures is a tough one, one which Ireland will not let World Rugby forget.
Non rugby considerations
The French bid had the shadow the the 2024 Summer Olympics cast over it. World Rugby has yet to determine what the affect would be on the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, with the knowledge that Japan hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics. Would planning attention be divided? Do they gamble on the same scenario twice?
The South African bid was pitched with the knowledge that the country has a record of hosting international sporting events in the relatively recent past. Rugby World Cup 1995, The African Cup of Nations (Football) in 1996, Cricket World Cup in 2004 and the Football World Cup in 2010. The Irish bidding team took a further low blow a the South African bid by highlighting that Durban had to withdraw from the bidding process for the 2022 due to financial constraints. What was not raised was that the Rugby World Cup bid had guaranteed financial backing from the South African Government and the Commonwealth Games did not.
The Irish bid had a shortcoming in terms of perception that is probably unfair. The country has never hosted a sporting event of this magnitude and therefore has no track record to back up their claim to the right to host the tournament. Everybody has to start somewhere, so if not here… where?
A sense of entitlement?
The Irish Rugby Football Union has been on the offensive since the result of the evaluation process was made known. No one can deny them the right to campaign as hard as they can to turn popular opinion in favour of their bid before the Council vote on Wednesday 15 November. The manner in which they attacked specifically the South African bid and have not underlined the strengths of their own bid smacks of playing the man and not the ball. The French bid also scored higher than the Irish bid, so why the relative silence on a facing competitor to be the Rugby World Cup host nation? The impression is one that the IRFU felt that they were entitled to be named as the preferred bidder.
With the knowledge of how the process is intended to work and how the IRFU have reacted, it might be opportune to turn this scenario completely on its head:
How would the IRFU react if they were announced as the preferred bidder and then lost in the IRB Council vote?
Was there another way?
The way that the IRFU has handled their objections might just work against them, for two immediately apparent reasons:
- How will World Rugby accept being pushed into a corner by one of their members? Will there be back room discussions to ensure that Council members push through their preferred bidder?
- The IRFU are not making friends with rugby in the Southern Hemisphere right now, specifically South African and New Zealand. Playing a slightly longer game might have served them better. The 2027 Rugby World Cup host nation has not been decided yet, although Argentina has already expressed interest in a bid and there is a possibility of a combined USA/Canada bid being flighted. Ireland would be well placed to host the 2027 tournament if they started off with a minimum of six votes for their bid with South Africa and New Zealand’s votes guaranteed. That could possibly have been nine out of the required twenty if Australia was asked to vote as a Southern Hemisphere bloc. As a bidding nation, Argentina would not be permitted to vote. At this stage, Ireland are gambling with high stakes and might get neither tournament.
Whatever the result on Wednesday, there are going to be two unhappy bidders and one ecstatic one. Could we see World Rugby scraping egg off their collective faces?
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