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Stakes high as Rugby World Cup race enters home straight

Winner of three-way contest to stage 2023 tournament selected on November 15th

As we enter the decisive home straight in the three-way contest to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the prize at stake is simply enormous. Aside from the sporting legacy it will leave, the largesse accrued to the respective bidding economies ranges in estimate from €1.5 billion in Ireland to €1.75 billion in South Africa and €2.44 billion in France.

Having canvassed around the world for upwards of the last 12 months, the three bidding teams made their presentations to the World Rugby Council last Monday in Kensington. Each bid will now be reviewed in detail by the technical review group, evaluated against weighted criteria, and will feature independent economic, financial and commercial assessment by Dow Jones Sports Intelligence, the multi-national law firm Clifford Chance and other expert advisers.

This will also be independently assessed by the Sports Consultancy before the Rugby World Cup Board will then make its host recommendation on October 31st.

The board consists of five men. Bill Beaumont is the president of World Rugby (WR), who would ultimately have the casting vote in the unlikely event of a tie. Agustin Pichot the vice-president of WR, will also be an influential figure, not least in the destiny of the three votes from Argentina and two from the South American association. The others are Brett Gosper, the CEO of WR, Michael Hawker, an Australian, and Gareth Davies, the former Welsh outhalf.


The technical review group, who has visited all three would-be hosts, consists of Alan Gilpin, tournament director of the Rugby World Cup; Linda Hoey, host services manager for the Rugby World Cup; Robert Brophy, head of finance, World Rugby; and Ross Aitken World Rugby cities and venues manager.

Hosting objectives

The bids will be evaluated in line with World Rugby’s seven hosting objectives, with varying scoring percentages to apply across these seven criteria.

The first is “Venues and infrastructure commensurate with a top-tier major event”. This is effectively stadia capacity sizes dependent on the needs of given matches. Certainly, France and South Africa have the bigger stadia, but in the latter’s case, is their biggest strength actually a weakness? Their smallest stadium is 43,000, which they seem ill-equipped to fill for, say, USA v Tonga. A packed Thomond Park would appear altogether more fitting.

“Comprehensive and enforceable public and private sector guarantees.” Given the two Governments’ commitments, it’s hard to see how Ireland couldn’t merit the highest possible score here. The South African government only came on board somewhat belatedly, and the French bid appears more reliant on private backing.

“A commercially successful event with a fully funded, robust financial model.” Basically this means not only how much money the World Cup might generate, but also how secure are those monies and how enforceable and binding their respective guarantees are. Ireland’s bid appears to be the most securely guaranteed, if not the biggest tournament fee or projected profit.

“Operational excellence through an integrated and experienced delivery team.” The French tick this box, but the caveat is the 2024 Paris Olympics, a potential distraction. Ireland’s experience is less proven, but where necessary they have enlisted advisers from the UK, as well as Irish people involved in RWC 2015 and the London Olympics.

“A vision that engages and inspires domestic and international audiences and contributes to the growth of rugby at all levels.” If Ireland don’t win this category it would be a surprise, not least given their reach into North America.


“An enabling environment of political and financial stability that respects the diversity of Rugby World Cup’s global stakeholders.” This effectively means stable and trustworthy governments, and it’s hard to envisage Ireland and France not scoring better than South Africa here, given their respective credit ratings.

Furthermore, Durban being stripped of the 2022 Commonwealth Games because they didn't honour commitments given in their bid doesn't help South Africa's bid. Mark Alexander, head of the Durban bid, is also heading the 2023 RWC bid.

“An environment and climate suited to top-level sport in a geography that allows maximum fan mobility.” Ireland’s compactness should be another positive. France is bigger, but with proven transport networks. The bigger differences between venues in South Africa would require more air travel, but the “environment” brings into focus the issue of security.

South Africa will point to the heightened security measures, although on the Global Peace Index, Ireland comes in 10th, France is rated 51st, and South Africa, even more sadly, 123rd.

In any event, on foot of the World Rugby Board announcing its recommendations on October 31st, the 2023 host will be selected on November 15th by the World Rugby Council.

Swing votes

Were the recommendation to heavily weigh in favour of one of the bids, that should prove decisive, but were two or three to be closely rated, then the canvassing of the last 12 months and next six weeks would come more into play.

This weekend, the Irish presentation team of Philip Browne, Kevin Potts, Pat Whelan and John O'Driscoll, will complete their global trek when they are hosted by the UAR in Buenos Aires, while the French team are visiting Japan, and then the Welsh Union.

There will be 26 individuals in the room voting on November 15th, representing the 39 votes to be cast from around the world. If a simple majority of 20 votes is not reached on the first count, then the lowest will be omitted and there will be a second count.

As Browne said last Monday, there are always swing votes. “To be fair, all the people we visited said we’d really like to see what the outcome of the assessments are before they start promising their votes.

“I understand that and it would make a mockery of the process if they started offering their votes without seeing the assessments. So a lot of them are playing their cards close to their chests. But we have a good sense of who we think has an affinity with what we are trying to do and say. I can’t share that with you but we are in a reasonable state.”