Rugby World Cup: earnest, flimsy bid falls short
Irish presentation cast aside in favour of nuts and bolts of modern stadiums and technology and principal driver of modern sports events: the bottom line
Ireland’s poor third-place showing in the contest to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup was an embarrassing reversal. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Ireland’s elimination in the first round of the process to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 did not come as a surprise, given the independent technical review carried out by World Rugby had placed the Irish bid third among the three bidding nations. However, the lack of support from the voting council members – Ireland received just eight votes from a possible 39 – amounts to a cautionary tale.
The Irish presentation, which included the promise of a US audience comprised largely of the Irish diaspora, was cast aside in favour of the tangible nuts and bolts of modern stadiums and technology and the principal driver of modern, scaled-up sports events: the bottom line.
A “cottage industry” World Cup could not mask Ireland’s lack of punch in any of the five critical technical areas and reflects as poorly on the Government, a firm supporter of a bid that cost €3.1 million, as it does the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). Stadiums that were not yet complete, antiquated terracing in other grounds and fears over inadequate technology did not measure up against what was on offer in the French and South African bids.
Politically, there were also missteps. Minister for Sport Shane Ross suggested in July that Ireland could not only stage a brilliant World Cup but could also set its sights on hosting a future Olympic Games – adding an absurd veneer to Irish thinking and to the earnest but flimsy bid. The open letter by the IRFU to World Rugby following Ireland’s third-place ranking in the technical assessment was also interpreted by many as derogatory in tone.
The Irish bid organisers said they were concerned about South Africa’s financial commitments and guarantees, given the country’s current sovereign credit rating. This coming from a country that was in effect declared bankrupt in the past decade.
Ireland also underestimated the weight of the game changer: profit. Before Wednesday’s decisive meeting in London, the Irish bid met World Rugby’s stated target of a €120 million tournament fee, but it was trumped by both of its competitors. The French and South African bids provided tournament fees of €170 million and €180 million, respectively. The Irish bidding team sought to keep its state-guaranteed overall profit confidential, but the winners openly said a French World Cup would generate around €300 million. World Rugby generates 90 per cent of its income from the World Cup, and the cash is divided among constituent members. Ultimately, the Irish numbers were critically short.
Given the original upbeat spin, elimination with eight votes suggests Irish closed-door horse-trading lagged too. It was an embarrassing landing. Ireland took the bronze medal – a welcome third in most sports events. Not this time.