Gosper: Japan ahead of England as WC hosts
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: World Rugby's Chief Executive tried to allay fears about Japan's readiness to stage the 2019 World Cup, saying the country was three years ahead of where 2015 hosts England were at the same point.
There was consternation last year when the original plan for the redevelopment of Yokohama Stadium - the main venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2019 Rugby World Cup Final - was abandoned because of spiralling construction costs.
This led to speculation that the first Rugby World Cup in Asia could be moved to one of Rugby Union's more established nations.
But World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper said feedback from "everyone down" from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had convinced him that Yokohama, scene of the 2002 football World Cup Final, would be ready to stage the climax of the 2019 rugby showpiece.
"We were out there a couple of months ago for a formal review," Gosper told reporters on the sidelines of the World Rugby conference in London.
"From the Prime Minister down we got a good sense of momentum. We are happy with Yokohama."
Organisers of the 2015 World Cup in England - where Japan caused one of the all-time great upsets by beating South Africa - were widely praised for delivering a successful tournament on and off the field.
But Gosper said Japan was primed to deliver in its own right.
"There is a lot of excitement in Japan," the Australian said. "They're ahead of England at this stage of the preparations, three years out, on most of the criteria."
Gosper's comments were endorsed by World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont, who said he had been pleased by what he saw on his visits to Japan.
"I was both impressed by the passion and the expertise," Beaumont, captain of England's 1980 Grand Slam-winning side, said.
"Japan will be groundbreaking for the sport of rugby in terms of attracting new fans and players in Asia as they look to the 'Land of the Rising Scrum'."
While upbeat about Japan's progress, the 64-year-old said solving the thorny issue of a global rugby calendar, another major task in his in-tray when he succeeded France's Bernard Lapasset in July, was proving more difficult.
A global calendar aligning the Northern and Southern hemisphere Rugby Union seasons has long been seen as a way of bringing more order to a congested fixture list and easing the demands on top players.
"It's challenging," said Beaumont.
"I came in thinking it was something I could sort out pretty quickly, but I found otherwise. It is a case of one step back and one step forwards.
"I'm hopeful that by early next year we'll reach a solution, but there is no easy solution."
Former lock Beaumont, who played 41 Tests - 34 for England and seven for the British and Irish Lions - said the physical demands of rugby made it impossible for the sport to copy football's schedule.
"Our number one priority is player welfare, we can't play more than once a week.
"We're not like soccer where a player in the Premier League can fly to Chile and play an international on Tuesday and come back and play for his club on the Saturday."
But Beaumont was unequivocal about the success of the Olympic debut of Rugby Sevens at this year's Games in Rio, saying it had done wonders for the sport's profile.
"When I first arrived at the IOC [International Olympic Committee] hotel in Rio, not being an IOC member I wasn't known by many of them and for the first few days they would look at my chest because that is where my accreditation badge was," said Beaumont.
"After the tournament started they would look me in the eye and say, 'What a wonderful event'.
"The halo effect of the Olympics has been seen this very day in that research by Nielsen Sports has revealed 16.83 million new fans have been attracted to rugby as a result."