World Cup 2023: Bidding process will come down to the wire

A recommendation from World Cup Technical Review Group will be crucial

Unlike previous World Cup bidding processes, the three-way contest to host the 2023 tournament appears less likely to come down to behind-the-scenes machinations and lobbying than before.

Indeed, if it comes to pass that the Council of World Rugby convenes in London on November 15th and decides the Ireland 2023 bid is the best of the three, it will be traced in large part to this week’s two-day fact-finding mission by the World Rugby Technical Review Group.

This is because World Rugby has decided that the review group will make a recommendation as to which is the best of the three bids a full month in advance of the actual vote.

To that end this evaluation team, headed by World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper, and which also consists of Ross Aitken – World Rugby cities and venues manager, Alan Gilpin – head of Rugby World Cup, Linda Hoey – bid manager, and Robert Brophy – chief financial officer World Cup, have been to South Africa and will visit France next week.


"Presenting what we believe was a world-class bid on Tuesday and Wednesday was imperative," says Kevin Potts, the RWC Ireland 2023 oversight board bid director and Chief Operating Officer of the IRFU.

"We were even fortunate with the weather on Tuesday when Henry Shefflin and Bernard Brogan were able to display their hurling and Gaelic football skills at Croke Park. We genuinely feel the two days could not have gone better. We prepared for it thoroughly and feel that we delivered a powerful and impactful series of presentations that covered every eventuality..

“We welcome this new evaluation process, as do the other bidding countries, and our best hope of the World Rugby Council voting in favour of Ireland 2023 is if our bid wins the recommendation.”

For all the goodwill which the IRFU, South African Rugby Union or French Federation have built up with other unions, federations and associations who make up the council, and for all the merits of their bids, their past favours, their close relationships and lobbying previously and subsequently, winning that recommendation appears to hold the key.

Candidate file

On June 1st, the three bidding countries must submit their “candidate file”, effectively the bid itself, to World Rugby’s head office in Dublin. Between then and July 31st there is a clarification period, whereupon on the latter date all three have to submit the signed host agreement and the signed guarantee letters for hosting the 2023 tournament and the various financial commitments, again to the World Rugby Head Office in Dublin.

On September 25th the three bidders will each make a presentation to the World Rugby Council before, in mid-October, the board of the Rugby World Cup Ltd will issue a recommendation to World Rugby Council as to who should be the 2023 hosts, based on the evaluation process.

As part of what appears to be a fairly vigorous process, the review group and World Rugby will also enlist independent advisors and consultants to evaluate different aspects of the three bids. For example, Dew Jones Sports will conduct an assessment of each would-be host country, with regard to the state of their economies, government stability and so forth.

France and South Africa have proven they can host World Cups, having done so before in 2007 and 1995.

Although a co-host in 1991 and 1999, the Irish bid has more convincing to do in that regard, but will also cite its candidature as a prospective new host, thus accentuating World Rugby’s desire to spread the game globally. Awarding the World Cup to France for the second time in 16 years would hardly be achieving that.

By contrast to France, or even South Africa, awarding the World Cup to Ireland would encourage the likes of Italy, Argentina, Canada and the USA to consider bids

The French bid will promise to be the biggest and the best World Cup of the three prospective hosts. They will cite the success of last year’s football European Championships, and having all the upgraded or new stadia built in situ, along with the infrastructure, will put together an impressive bid.

To that end, the French federation's newly-elected president, Bernard Laporte, has upped the ante, and hosted World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont for lunch recently.

They are targeting ticket sales of 3 million, a million more than Ireland’s bid, but given Euro 2016 sold 2.4 million tickets, and with more games in a more popular sport, that seems grandiose.

Ticket sales

In any case, ticket sales are retained by the hosts to offset the costs of hosting a Rugby World Cup. World Rugby’s profits from the tournament come from the sale of television rights and sponsorship.

By contrast to France, or even South Africa, awarding the World Cup to Ireland would encourage the likes of Italy, Argentina, Canada and the USA to consider bids. North America remains the most relatively untapped market for growth, and the Ireland 2023 bid has stressed its reach into the 35-million strong Irish diaspora in the USA.

To that end, the 62,300 crowd which attended the Ireland-New Zealand game in Chicago last November (a record for a rugby match in North America) will do the Irish bid no harm. Nor will the record attendance of 89,267 for Ireland’s pool game against Romania at Wembley. The Green Army of 2011 in New Zealand and 2015 in the UK will help too.

South Africa’s hosting of the 1995 World Cup was a huge success, and they are a powerful component of the Sanzar entity. For South Africa not to host the 2023 tournament would mean a gap of 12 years and counting since the World Cup was last hosted in the Southern Hemisphere.

"I actually think World Rugby has gone beyond that," says the IRFU chief executive Philip Browne. "I don't think it's about north or south, or east or west, it's about delivering on the commercial side, the financial success, it's about delivering in terms of trying to expand the game worldwide, it's about ensuring that the tournament is effectively unforgettable and trying to grow the whole sport. So I don't think that's relevant."

The South African government and union are also at odds, and after Durban won the right to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games in September 2015, earlier this month they announced they would be unable to do so due to financial constraints.

All of this, along with independent reports, will thus come into play, as part of the weighted criteria against which each bid will be measured.

Another, possibly significant, development will be the IOC decision regarding the 2024 Olympic Games, for which Paris and Los Angeles are the rival bids, and which will be made in September.

Objective process

Amid concerns that the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 might overshadow Japan’s hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, were Paris awarded the 2024 Games it would hardly help France’s bid to host the 2022 Rugby World Cup. The Trump administration’s immigration policies and travel restrictions are not seen to help LA’s chances, and thus, in a roundabout way, could help the Ireland 2023 bid.

Significantly, the recommendation of the review group and in turn RWC Ltd will be published in the media in mid-October, before the Council of World Rugby meets in London on November 15th.

“This will be an open, transparent, thorough and objective process,” says Potts. This assuredly seems in stark contrast to, say, football’s World Cup or the Olympic Games.

There were also three rival bids for the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, namely Italy, Japan and South Africa. When World Rugby, then the International Rugby Board (IRB), met in Dublin on July 28th 2009, they voted 16–10 in favour of approving the recommendation from Rugby World Cup Ltd (RWCL) that England and Japan should be named hosts in turn.

If the recommendation was significant then, it appears even more so now.

Hence, it would be surprising if the Council of World Rugby went against it. Imagine the ridicule they would leave themselves exposed to if the Council did so?

But then again, you never know and while we are entering relatively new territory, the primary objective remains in place, namely winning a simple majority, 19, of the 37 votes, whether on the first or second count.

How the votes are shared

Tier 1
England (3 votes)
Ireland would be hopeful that their neighbours would be well disposed to the Irish bid, but it's hard to know, and most likely the RFU delegates on the World Rugby Council will be swayed by the recommendation of RWC Ltd.

Wales (3 votes)
Again sure to be swayed by the recommendation, but if the Irish bid cannot win the support of their fellow Celts, then they may as well give up.

Scotland (3 votes)
Likewise, were the Irish bid to win the recommendation of the evaluation process, they would be hopeful of Scotland's support.

Italy (3 votes)
Naturally more aligned to France, who have historically been of huge support, although the Italians are very much part of the Pro12, where the IRFU have been very supportive.

New Zealand (3 votes)
Part of the Sanzar bloc, and therefore would be well disposed to the South African bid, but Murray McCully, New Zealand's designated minister for the 2011 Rugby World Cup and now the country's foreign minister, has publicly stated his government's support for the Irish bid, and that he would encourage the NZRU to do likewise. The two Unions have worked fruitfully together, witness the historic Test in Chicago last November, and the IRFU are believed to have voted for New Zealand's 2011 bid.

Australia (3 votes)
Would be more inclined to vote in favour of South Africa's bid. In ruling out an Australian bid for the 2023 tournament two years ago, an ARU spokesperson said: "We are aware that our SANZAR partners South Africa are looking to host their second World Cup and we support their bid.."

Argentina (2 votes)
The UAR could have three votes come November, pending a decision by the World Rugby Council in May. Of the three bidding countries, their ties are unquestionably deepest with France but given Agustin Pichot's influence and high profile in World Rugby, would most likely go with the evaluation team's recommendation.

Regional Associations

Oceania (2 votes)
As well as Australia and New Zealand, the Oceania Federation includes Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, and others, such as the Cook Islands, American Samoa and Papua New Guinea. Would most likely take their lead from New Zealand.

South America (2 votes)
Sudamérica Rugby, known as Confederación Sudamericana de Rugby (CONSUR), has nine member countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. Would perhaps most likely row in with Argentina and Pichot.

North America
Rugby Americas North has 11 member countries in North America, Central America and the Caribbean, including the USA, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, the Caymen Islands and the Bahamas. Would most likely take their lead from USA Rugby and Rugby Canada.

Africa (2 votes)
Rugby Africa, formerly known as the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR), would assuredly, and understandably, stand loyally behind the South African bid.

Europe (2 votes)
Rugby Europe has 48 members, of whom 39 are affiliated to World Rugby, and are long since very closely aligned to the French, who have done more than anybody to support European rugby over the years. Hence they would be best disposed towards the French bid.

Asia (2 votes)
Asia Rugby, formerly the Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU), has 31 member unions in countries across Asia, stretching from Kazakhstan to Guam. The IRFU will be making a presentation to Asia Rugby in Outer Mongolia on May 2nd. Japan, followed by Hong Kong and South Korea, are its leading rugby nations, and they would most likely take their lead from Japan.

Other Unions

Canada (1 vote)
The Ireland 2023 bid has stressed Ireland's links with the Irish diaspora in Canada, which numbers 4½ half million, as well as the States.  Ireland toured there in 2013 and hosted the Canadians last November, and were the Irish bid to win the recommendation, they would be hopeful of Canada's vote.

USA (1 vote)
Ireland's participation in the Chicago fixture with the All Blacks prompted the biggest attendance, 62,300, ever witnessed at a rugby game in America and their visit this June to the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey has strengthened the bond between the two. Were Ireland's bid to be recommended, they would seem likely supporters.

Japan (1 vote)
This could rise to two pending a decision by the Council of World Rugby in May. Japan would most likely act honourably, and thus support whichever country's bid is recommended, although Ireland's two-Test tour this year and the two governments' celebration of 60 years of diplomatic ties this year can't have done Ireland's bid any harm.

Georgia (1 vote)
Part of the European bloc which would have closest ties with France, although that said, Ireland hosted the Georigans in November 2014 and have regularly taken part in the Tbilisi Cup in recent years.

Romania (1 vote)
The Romanian Rugby Federation was a founding member of Rugby Europe along with France and others, and would most likely be best disposed toward the French bid.