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France 2023 bid team promising to prevent the death of rugby

Bid leader Claude Atcher says ‘rugby will die’ if nothing is done in the next ‘five to 10 years’

Kieran Read’s All Blacks hammered South Africa 57-0. Photograph: Nigel Marple/Reuters

France has promised to prevent the “death of international rugby” if it is awarded the 2023 World Cup and has claimed a successful bid would help in attempts to stop its Top 14 clubs luring southern hemisphere players to Europe.

France, whose bid includes a guarantee to World Rugby of nearly €570 million, is vying with Ireland and South Africa to host the 2023 tournament and each will make presentations to the voting unions next Monday before a final decision is revealed on November 15th.

Outlining a proposal he believes would provide World Rugby with €400m for reinvestment, the bid leader, Claude Atcher, also revealed plans to address the international landscape that has left France and England as the dominant economic forces.

“If we don’t do anything, in five to 10 years you will have two, three to four teams on the same level and that’s all, and I think rugby will die,” said Atcher. “If you are looking at New Zealand, the best team in the world, their financial report in June showed they lost €3m [£2.65M]. South Africa, they lost €2m. Australia, they have a lot of issues with structure, teams, players and financially.

“Italy’s financial report in June showed that they lost £2m. Scotland, Wales and Ireland are not losing money but they are balanced in terms of budget. The only unions with a profit are England and France.

“We are not World Rugby and do not want to fight with them, they are a key body. But to develop rugby we need some new teams, a strong team in the USA, Russia and China, and emerging countries, to increase the capacity of rugby and to involve more people around the world.”

Atcher also acknowledged how nations such as South Africa – thrashed 57-0 by New Zealand last Saturday – are afflicted by the cash-rich Top 14 clubs, who lure their players on lucrative contracts. Atcher believes that being awarded the World Cup would be a powerful bargaining tool with the French league, with negotiations due to begin in November.

“If we are awarded the World Cup it will accelerate our political changes with the professional championship in France,” he added. “If we don’t change the rules in five years or 10 years, all South African, Australian and New Zealand players will play in France, in England.

“The best players are not playing for the national team so the results are not as expected by the unions, so it’s very damaging. If you look at the English Premier League in football, it’s exactly the same situation. All clubs are using foreign players and the results of England’s national team are the same as the French rugby team and we have to change that.”

With the Rugby World Cup tournament director, Alan Gilpin, revealing over the weekend that organisers of Japan 2019 have “not progressed as much as we would expect”, Atcher took the opportunity to emphasise the financial strength of France’s bid and their experience in hosting major sporting events. “In the bid you have to prove that your stadiums are at the level of international competition,” he said. “I think that’s a big strength for our bid. We don’t need one euro to invest. If we wanted to host the World Cup in six months, we are totally ready.”

The host nation must pay World Rugby £120m to stage a World Cup but France has taken the unusual step of guaranteeing £150m, which is underwritten by the government, as well as €236m for the operational costs of organising the tournament thanks to an agreement with the financial group Société Générale. Additionally, France intends to buy the commercial rights for hospitality and marketing from World Rugby for €112m with ticketing revenue forecast at €377m and a further €90m in government support secured.

Ireland meanwhile, has put expansion into the United States at the forefront of its bid. “If the rugby community is genuine about wanting to expand the sport, if they want to inspire people from other countries as potential hosts, then we believe we’ve made it easy for them to do that,” said the Irish Rugby Football Union chief executive, Philip Browne. “What we’d see as a tripartite partnership has to be put in place, between Ireland 2023 if we win the bid, World Rugby and US Rugby. It’s about what can we do to increase the footprint of rugby in North America.”

(Guardian service)