Down with World Rugby, it would have been great craic
It would have required real imagination for World Rugby to see things the Irish way
Oh, they’ve done it now, those elitists of World Rugby, pouring cold water and even colder technical criticism on Ireland’s big dreams of hosting the rugby world cup of welcomes, of major craic and of anything up to 10,000 weeping Japanese rugby tourists wandering through Salthill and greater Knocknacarra in search of that elusive stadium they call Pearse.
Down with their narrow accountants’ souls and their dull insistence on tedious details like “infrastructure” and “finance” over the aesthetically unbeatable vision of (at random) Argentina versus Romania in Killarney on one of those tawny afternoons when the mountains are shrouded in mist and the pubs are effin’ jammers.
Curse their innate caution and instinct towards fear when, upon leafing through Ireland’s bid, they Google-Earthed Casement Park, the proposed Belfast venue, to find the place entirely abandoned and boarded up, its pitch a tiny nature reserve, its terraces overgrown and nothing to denote its former life except a forgotten jock strap and a wee kettle still in working condition in the referee’s room.
Damn their lily-livered attitude to the small detail that many of the Irish venues didn’t have floodlights “as such”. Just yet. Could they not simply accept that they’d be horsed up well in advance – weeks, like – ahead of the opening match?
Curse their diminishing of Dáil Éireann’s eternal optimist, Minister for Sport Shane Ross, who, like JFK in the Camelot era, is unafraid to ask “why not?”
As recently as July, that month when the world’s rugby players are allowed time to take a brief holiday, Minister Ross was to be heard extolling the limitless possibilities of the Emerald Isle as a hub for multibillion sports events, noting that if the World Cup bid was successful, then the Olympic Games would become “a real, realistic bid”.
“The sky’s the limit,” Our Man In Sport told an Oireachtas committee, enabling the Senators to dare to dream of the day when the Olympic BMX freestyle heats might just be staged in a purpose-built venue outside Carlow town. Was it for this – the chance to convert the community swimming pool in Westport into a €15 million state of the art Olympic water-polo venue where the Croats and Serbs might go at it with abandon – the wild geese spread the grey wing on every tide? Yes, the Rosser promised. Yes, it bloody was.
So down with World Rugby for dashing that kind of bold dreaming in a small country and for not trusting the true message of the Irish bid which was surely translatable into any language: Look it, it’ll be grand.
The effect of the merciless and heartless grading by World Rugby has been to make the Irish feel, well, de-graded on the international stage once again. It provoked an instant and inevitable bout of snap-examination of self and soul.
Was poor Ireland the laughing stock in private members’ clubs all over the world? Were we deluded to think that the kingmakers of World Rugby would ever condescend to make do with the Irish wine list for a full month? Was it pure self-indulgence to think that the sight of Drico in Full Metal Charm mode, leading an Irish delegation all wearing cute, matching emerald ties and best-boy smiles, would sway the mindset of the kind of people who come to hold down a seat on rugby’s most corporate and financially savvy board?
The bid evaluation report was such a damning put-down of Mother Ireland and her stadia that it was hard not to suddenly see the country as inept, delusional and criminally wanting in 4G coverage.
What the report made clear is to what World Rugby wants is a tournament that could be held Anywhere. They want big modern indistinguishable bowl stadiums like Stade de France (easily one of the grimmest spots on this good planet) and big roads and lots of trains. They want their tournament to be so streamlined that apart from the language it won’t make a difference to whether the venues are in Cape Town or Paris.
World Rugby wanted “to ensure evidence-based objectivity” while the Irish bid was promising the exotic: a two o’clock Test match in Castlebar and dinner at seven in Nevin Maguire’s if you are up for taking the short cut through Dowra.
Somewhere at the heart of Ireland’s bid was an instinctive belief – no, a certainty – that they could host a tournament that would be wonderful precisely because it wouldn’t be streamlined and because it would be like Nowhere Else. Celtic Park is like nowhere else. Fitzgerald Stadium is like nowhere else. (And they missed all kinds of tricks in not including Clones).
Deep down, everyone knows Ireland could do it. Yes, it would have been a strange world cup: slightly-off-the-cuff, somewhat damp and a bit squiffy. No doubt it would have cost an absolute fortune. (But then, so did that period known as “the Boom”).
And no question that in years to come, a cowboy or two would have been found to have been seriously on the make. There would probably have been a post-Ireland RWC fall out, maybe a full-blown scandal and even a tribunal of inquiry.
Against that, it would have been great craic. And it would have been culturally magnificent: a unique crossover between the smooth and bland expectations of World Rugby and the time-honoured way of dealing with massive sporting fixtures in the heart of Ireland, which is to throw up a few traffic cones, order in extra kegs and keep the fingers crossed.
Oh, to be a fly on the deluxe interior on the day when Sir Clive Woodward, stuck in one of those eternal traffic jams outside MacHale Park, would have rolled down the window of the Rolls-Royce to have a local steward advising him that it was “bananas” on the Lawn Road and that his best bet was to ditch it up behind the Bacon Factory and walk the rest of the way.
To be there at that moment approaching six in the evening when the caretaker of a Thomond or a Salthill would materialise in the press box and, with a meaningful jangle of his keys, enquire of Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Lynagh and the other folk-heroes-turned-media-performers: Have yez no homes to go to? Some of us, he would tell them in a sad voice, have been here since six o’clock in the morning.
And to see the Tongans making their way up the Lone Moor Road towards Celtic Park would have been a unique moment for Derry – and for Tonga. It could have been fab.
But conjuring up these scenarios for an adjudicating group whose mindset is locked into a rigidly defined set of criteria proved sadly impossible. The tournament will go to one of those bigger, sunnier and more efficient countries, leaving we in Ireland to laugh mirthlessly at the deficiencies which the World Rugby has now made us so painfully aware – our stadiums, our telecommunications, our infrastructure.
No, it would have required real imagination for World Rugby to see things the Irish way. In the end, they couldn’t quite make that leap.