Rugby World Cup 2023: The State of Play - France
With the bidding process for the 2023 Rugby World Cup hotting up, we continue our look at the potential host countries and break down their chances of securing the spectacle. Last up, it’s France.
It seems near enough every development surrounding the 2023 World Cup at the moment is about France’s campaign promising yet more money to World Rugby in order to secure the honour of having Parisian silversmiths make the All Blacks’ winning medals. France not only agreed to pay the £120million required to host the tournament, but actually offered to go £30million over that, in addition to recruiting Société Générale to help cover €236million of operational costs.
As if that weren’t enough, they’ve offered €112milllion to purchase the marketing and hospitality rights usually taken care of by World Rugby, have forecast €377million in ticketing revenue and secured €90million worth of support from the French government. In total, it looks like somewhere in the region of £350million will be going to World Rugby, a figure that is only rumoured to increase the closer the bids get to submission. Suffice to say, France are working on the assumption that money talks, and does so in a sexy French accent.
Of course, it’s not just money that the French bid team are hoping can swing the odds in their favour. They previously hosted the tournament in 2007, and will be arguing that the recent experience of hosting will represent a valuable advantage over hosting virgins Ireland and 1995 hosts South Africa. That said, World Rugby may be reluctant to return to France so soon, preferring to give someone else the opportunity. France however will counter that they’re in an even better shape to host the spectacle than they were 10 years ago, with billions spent on venues and infrastructure due to the hosting of the Euros 2016 soccer tournament.
France are also promising unparalleled atmosphere. The fact that the bid is being promoted with the tagline “2023 will make vibrate” is of course in no way amusing and certainly not worth giggling about at the back of the classroom, but France certainly know how to do sporting spectacle. Given that they’ve promised to sell 2.5million tickets as well, a successful bid by France would almost certainly result in a tournament well worth watching.
However, not all is rosé in the French camp. There have been some serious questions raised about some of the figures involved in the bid campaign, and whilst no one has directly accused the team of any FIFA-like shenanigans, World Rugby will know that they have to be careful to avoid any further scandal. For example, former France coach and current FFR president Bernard Laporte has had to lessen his involvement in the campaign after it emerged he used his influence to get a ban for a Montpellier player reduced – with many looking to Laporte’s business relationship with Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad with increasing suspicion. That Altrad’s company also sponsor the national team and are backing the 2023 bid means that if there’s even the slightest whiff of dodgy activity around the selection process World Rugby will have a serious headache.
As well as the tournament itself, World Rugby consider the legacy effects of each bid to determine which is likely to have the best long term effect for rugby as a whole. France have been so bold as to claim that only by presenting the tournament to them can World Rugby prevent “the death of international rugby”, in a press release that has the faintly threatening air of a supervillain. Disappointingly, this wasn’t delivered by Laporte swivelling in a black leather chair inside a hollowed out volcano, and doesn’t involve Sebastian Chabal plotting to throw the Barrett brothers into a tank of piranhas. Instead, France 2023 claim that international rugby will be dead in the next 5-10 years unless they can stop a player exodus from the Southern Hemisphere to… France.
It’s not entirely clear how the team plan to address these issues, but from the statements given they seem to be arguing that that the leverage of hosting the international showcase would allow for greater power in discussions with the club competitions that are currently poaching the best players from around the world and weakening national sides as a result. The most logical explanation will be that in order to maximise the French national team’s chances of success, a deal will be made with the clubs to increase French representation in the Top 14, thus reducing the proportion of foreign players in the league. Whether this will be able to prevent those players simply going to England for similar wages remains to be seen.
Speaking of the national team, France have been hit and miss for a few years, and World Rugby may see this tournament as an opportunity to try to rebuild the side as a super power. Given the boost home field advantage generally gives host nations (England 2015 notwithstanding), a successful tournament for France could help to reaffirm their place amongst the world’s elite and potentially go some way to loosening New Zealand’s dominance on the world stage. That’s not to suggest for a moment of course that World Rugby would have any official favourites for the tournament itself, but a strong host nation performance is likely to provide a boost for ticket sales and viewing figures. France have the potential to do well, and hosting the tournament may provide extra motivation to do so.
The main strength France have to offer is the sheer amount of money they’re willing to invest in the tournament. None of the other bidders can get close to this amount, and given the government involvement and calculated business investment, it doesn’t seem like the overly fanciful figure it first appeared to be. France also have recent experience of hosting, though this may count against them as World Rugby aims to grow and develop the game globally. Scandals around key figures are only tangential to the bid itself, but if anything else rears its head World Rugby may wish to steer clear just to be on the safe side. The bookies still have France in third place for now, but when the final figures are made clear this may change if the money is too good for World Rugby to ignore.