Rugby stats: How did Ireland’s RWC 2023 bid score so low?

Ireland will now have appeal to voting countries to ignore bottom-line mathematics

Alan Gilpin, the head of the Rugby World Cup, explains the review process behind endorsing a bid to host the tournament. Video: World Rugby


Flawed, misguided, on point – it’s a matter of perspective and predicated directly on how the bids of Ireland, France and South Africa fared in a Technical Review Group’s report, released by World Rugby, in recommending a preferred host nation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. The report has been released ahead of the voting process in London on Wednesday, November 15th.

South Africa has called on the unions and federations to honour the overall findings of the report and award it the tournament,

France admitted to being surprised by some of the conclusions, while Ireland, the initial bookmakers’ favourites, was hugely disappointed, and will appeal to voting countries to ignore bottom-line mathematics in favour of a more holistic approach.

There were five main criteria under which the bids were appraised: vision and hosting concept; organisation and schedule; venues and host cities; tournament infrastructure; and finance, commercial and commitments.

South Africa finished top in three, France in two. Beneath that there were 21 sub-categories or detailed areas of evaluation to use the report’s terminology.

For the purposes of the graphic, this column breaks down the scores awarded – the bids were marked on a 0-4 points’ scale including half points – under four different headings, the best or in certain cases joint best score, the second best, a category called level, in which all three bids received identical marks and finally “worst”, where a country received the outright lowest marks.

What’s immediately obvious from an Irish perspective is that despite finishing third in the overall review Ireland actually edged France in the number of times – six occasions – that it was adjudged to be best or joint best under a particular sub-heading, as opposed to France’s five. Both countries were some way behind South Africa at 10.

The South African bid scored heavily in two categories, “Infrastructure” and “Venues and Host Cities”, receiving best or joint best marks on four occasions in each. Coincidentally, these were the categories in which Ireland picked up four of the seven times they were awarded the outright lowest mark, two in each.

In looking for an analogy in relation to the Irish stadiums’ guarantees, there’s no doubt that World Rugby believed that Ireland had its homework done – it’s just that it hadn’t brought it to class unlike the other two pupils. The stadiums will be ready in time, but in a case of the theoretical and the tangible it was heavily weighted in favour of the latter.

What will rankle slightly with the Irish Oversight Bid Board is a self-inflicted wound is that under one of the six subheadings, “Security”.

Ireland, France and South Africa all received the same mark of 2.5. Yet the Irish submission bore the critical notation that “the bid description of risks is limited and does not cover the full range of risks associated with the safety and security of the tournament, and therefore does not attract additional marks in the scoring”. In essence it was an area in which Ireland should, at face value, have outscored its rivals.   

There was only one category in which South Africa failed to pick up top marks – indeed it finished bottom overall for the only time – and it was in “Vision and Hosting Concept”. The Irish bid was judged to have “the most exciting and innovative concept for World Rugby 2023, that has clear and tangible objectives that align with World Rugby’s strategic goals”.

The Irish bid received the lowest mark on seven occasions, and one of those directly related to the tournament fee; it offered £120 million and was awarded 2.5, France (£150 million) was given 3, and South Africa (£160 million) got top marks of 4. Given that it was weighted at 35 per cent of the total in that category it was far from inconsequential. World Rugby derives 90 per cent of its income from World Cups. Money spoke.

Ireland did manage to claw back parity with South Africa by getting a top mark for commercial revenue, including sponsorship and advertising, but France was the market leader overall in this category.

South Africa picked up two of its three outright lowest marks in the “Financial and Commercial” section. Offering the largest tournament fee of £160 million offset a weaker commercial revenue return.

Ireland’s appeal will be to focus on what it perceives as flaws in the report, and it will appeal emotionally to voters. If there is no outright winner after the first round of voting then the country with the lowest tally is eliminated. Ireland’s best chance will be to somehow find a way into a head-to-head.

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