RWC 2023: State of play - Ireland
IN THE WORLD CUP SPOTLIGHT: Excitement is mounting ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, which is just two short years away.
After Japan’s surprisingly impressive and passionate performances in recent years, and with some gorgeous settings to provide a backdrop, it promises to be one of the most unique and spectacular editions of the tournament yet.
Nonetheless, RugbyPass always has one eye on the future. Assuming the world isn’t destroyed in a nuclear apocalypse between now and then, the 10th RWC will be held in 2023. With three countries (Ireland, France and South Africa) still in contention to host the sport’s biggest showcase, we take a look at each of the bids in order to work out which Airbnb we should be pre-booking for 6 years’ time.
We start with Ireland.
After the somewhat unexpected venture to Japan in 2019, rumour has it that World Rugby wants the 2023 edition to return to one of rugby’s “heartlands”, kind of like when you spent a summer volunteering in South America then immediately got a job in a bank in your hometown because adventure is all well and good but you missed your mum’s cooking. Rambling digressions aside, if these intentions are true it can only be a good thing for Ireland’s bid. Rugby has always been traditionally important in Ireland, and the fact that the national team are now firmly established as one of the world’s best means public support is at an all-time high. Ireland’s recent defeat of New Zealand, coupled with home field advantage would mean that the national side go into the tournament buoyed with confidence as an outside favourite of claiming the Webb Ellis Cup. This optimism and positivity on the part of the Irish fans would certainly go some way to ensuring healthy ticket sales in the lead up to the tournament.
However, regardless of how well tickets are sold Ireland is always going to be dwarfed in audience terms by the competing bids. With an overall population of around 6.6 million across both the Republic and Northern Ireland, the potential number of supporters is dwarfed by South Africa’s 55.91 million and is less than a 10th of France’s 66.9 million. Perhaps recognising this, Ireland’s bid hasn’t centred around its ability to pack people in, but has instead played to other strengths. The proposal’s main advantage is one of stability, with substantial government support and sensible business involvement meaning the endeavour would be virtually risk free from a commercial perspective.
As well as this, Ireland’s bid has combined the stability of hosting in an established rugby nation with the potential to expand into a new rugby market by promising significant involvement in North America. Other than brief mention of a “legacy programme”, exactly how this would work isn’t quite clear, but the fact that IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne is on record as saying that he sees Ireland’s bid as representing a three way partnership between themselves, World Rugby and USA Rugby clearly indicates American involvement would be substantial. World Rugby have made no secret of wishing to increase their presence in the States, and if Ireland hosting the World Cup could help them do that, it will be hard for them to say no.
In terms of infrastructure, Ireland has some fantastic stadiums that would undoubtedly produce an incredible atmosphere throughout the tournament. Kingspan, Ulster’s former Ravenhill would host games, as well as Munster’s iconic Thomond Park, the Aviva Stadium in Dublin and a host of other rugby and GAA grounds ahead of the finale at Croke Park. All of the proposed venues are guaranteed as part of the bid, meaning there will be no repeat of some of the issues currently affecting Japan’s preparation for the tournament where officials are scrambling to ensure stadiums are completed on time.
Ireland also have recent experience of hosting a major international tournament, with many seeing the Women’s World Cup as something of a test run for the more high profile event. Exactly how successful the tournament was is not overly clear yet, but officials will have learned some valuable lessons. With plans for the largest number of overseas supporters for the tournament, Ireland have guaranteed travelling fans some peace of mind by legally mandating that hotel prices won’t face an extortionate price hike. Ireland will be hoping that such moves will help assuage concerns that previous hosts France and South Africa are better prepared to deal with the logistical concerns and responsibilities of hosting.
Ireland will be seen by many as the safe choice, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t host a fantastic tournament. They can’t break the bank the way France have promised to do, but World Rugby are still being promised a profitable and risk-free tournament which builds on established support whilst dangling the tantalising prospect of North American expansion. Current bookmakers odds put Ireland as favourites, but all this could change before the bids are finalised and presented on Monday.