Rugby Australia hoping to learn the lessons of previous wasted tournaments

Governing body seen to have wasted the windfall from World Cups and Lions tours

Rugby Australia is under pressure to use the tournaments awarded to them to rejuvenate the game. Photograph:  Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

Rugby Australia is under pressure to use the tournaments awarded to them to rejuvenate the game. Photograph: Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

 

Australian rugby has had few wins to celebrate in recent years but on Friday rejoiced in a big one after being confirmed host of the 2027 World Cup and the 2029 women’s tournament.

Two years after financial turmoil forced serious consideration of a return to amateurism, Australia can now hope that the worst is past and the game can reverse a decline in fortunes since hosting the 2003 tournament.

George Gregan, who captained the Wallabies to a runner-up finish in 2003, said the World Cups provided the perfect opportunity to reboot the game.

“It’s a really good stepping stone to launch for the future,” the 49-year-old former scrumhalf told reporters in Sydney.

“You maximise the opportunity and you really grow the game in a positive way.”

An expected windfall of up to A$60 million from the tournaments could go a long way to fixing the financial problems at governing body Rugby Australia (RA), which lost A$27 million in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and another A$4.5 million last year.

With a lucrative visit from the British and Irish Lions in 2025, RA have a unique opportunity to rebuild the sport from the grass-roots up in coming years.

However, some fans may be wary about the governing body’s ability to do so given its record of financial management.

Some A$40 million generated from the 2001 British and Irish Lions series and the 2003 World Cup was frittered away in the following years for little apparent gain.

Prior to budget cuts forced by the pandemic, burgeoning overheads and staff numbers at RA headquarters did nothing to arrest a slide in match-day crowds and on-field performance by the Wallabies and local Super Rugby teams.

RA boss Andy Marinos has pledged the mistakes of the past will not be repeated and spoken of setting up a legacy fund to insulate the game from financial shocks.

Securing talent to restore the twice World Cup-winning Wallabies to their glory days is the immediate challenge in a country where most promising footballers see more opportunities in the more popular domestic competitions of rugby league and Australian Rules.

The chance to play in a World Cup on home soil might convince more young athletes to choose a sport that has global reach but only niche interest in Australia.

“It’s super competitive (in Australia) in terms of who is going to play what sport,” said Gregan.

“But when you’ve got something like this, it does inspire.

“A Rugby World Cup is like rugby’s Olympics. And I’m sure it will motivate some players, particularly if they have a background in our game.”

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