Rugby World Cup: Typhoon contingency plan was to move matches 18 kilometres away
Yokohama’s back-up venue was the nearby Tokyo Stadium
World Rugby’s contingency plans for matches in Yokohama was to move them 14 miles away to the Tokyo Stadium. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
World Rugby’s failure to properly prepare for Japan’s extreme weather can be revealed with World Cup organisers initially making plans to move England versus France and other matches in Yokohama to Tokyo Stadium – just 18 kilometres away.
Super Typhoon Hagibis has wreaked havoc on the World Cup with England’s Pool C decider in Yokohama cancelled and Scotland’s pivotal match with Japan, scheduled to take place in the same stadium on Sunday, in serious jeopardy. Hagibis is due to hit Tokyo and Yokohama on Saturday night local time and is forecast to be one of the most violent in recent history, measured at 1,400 kilometres wide.
But despite years to come up with extensive contingency plans, with the tournament director Alan Gilpin insisting in 2018 that the threat of natural disasters was “a really hot topic for us”, it is understood that before the emergence of Hagibis, organisers considered the nearby Tokyo Stadium the most suitable alternative to Yokohama.
When that inevitably became impossible, organisers hurriedly explored moving England’s match to Oita, more than 800 kilometres away on the south island of Kyushu. Ultimately it was decided that was not logistically viable nor safe for travelling supporters at such short notice.
World Rugby has repeatedly insisted that it has “robust contingency plans” but has not expanded any further and on Thursday, when it was confirmed that England’s match with France, and New Zealand’s encounter with Italy were cancelled, Gilpin revealed there were not any in place for Scotland’s fixture against Japan.
Tens of thousands of supporters have been left in limbo in Tokyo and Yokohama and while they will receive a full refund for their match tickets, World Rugby will not reimburse any travel costs. And the fact that organisers considered a stadium 18 kilometres away would initially be an appropriate alternative venue raises huge question marks over World Rugby’s contingency planning.
Had Oita, or Sapporo – 1,125 kilometres north of Yokohama – been designated as alternatives in the first place cancelled matches could have been avoided. “We always knew there would be risks but it’s rare for there to be a typhoon of this size at this stage of the year,” said Gilpin on Thursday. “We have no regrets.”
In the absence of any contingency plans, Scotland versus Japan will either take place on Sunday or be cancelled. Scotland, who face elimination if the match is called off, have countered by insisting that the fixture should go ahead, even if it has to be behind closed doors. The Scottish union has also threatened legal action if the match is not played.
England and France have both adopted philosophical approaches to their cancellation. England have headed to south to Miyazaki – where they held a pre-tournament camp – for the weekend. Indeed, head coach Eddie Jones had initially wanted to use Miyazaki as a base during the tournament, flying in and out to host cities.
On Friday, clear of Hagibis’s path, England went through a light fitness session and are set to ramp things up on Saturday in an effort to account for not having a match. All 31 players are set to train in some capacity on Saturday but players still nursing injuries, such as Billy Vunipola, are not expected to take a full part. – Guardian