Wednesday 23 January 2019

France's bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup is all about money and it may be enough

President of the French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte Picture: PA
President of the French Rugby Federation Bernard Laporte Picture: PA

Ben Coles

Perhaps it is the climb from street level up the steps towards the Orange Velodrome in Marseille which makes it seem so otherworldly, like a spaceship that has landed a few minutes' walk from the Plage du Prado. Being impressed by the sight of it is only natural.

Two hours north on the TGV in Lyon, the story is similar with the new 60,000 Groupama Stadium, where Saracens lifted the Champions Cup and the All Blacks play France on a Tuesday night on November 14.

Marseille and Lyon are hardly dominant rugby areas in France, although efforts are being made to change that with France hosting Italy in next year's Six Nations in Marseille and Lyon's recent rise to first place in the Top 14.

A byproduct of hosting Euro 2016 has been that France now boasts a collection of modern, world-class stadiums that their rivals for the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, Ireland and South Africa, struggle to match.

Hosting the Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympics a year apart is of no concern for France.

Nor is security after the terror attacks of recent years, with France arguably better prepared now than any other country to handle any threats.

What the French bid lacks is an emotional punch. The facilities and infrastructure are all in place and there is no reason to doubt for a second that the France is fully capable of hosting a remarkable tournament, and a lucrative one too.

Ireland's bid has been fronted by the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, accompanied by impressive videos including Bob Geldof reading W. B. Yeats, the best of Ireland awaiting the world if the tournament heads there for the first time in 2023.

South Africa are equally eager to add to those infamous images of Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela, to add a second chapter to that story in a country which has changed vastly since 1995. This is the fourth time in a row they have bid to host the tournament.

The stadia are there in South Africa, with some built or updated not so long ago in 2010 for the FIFA World Cup, but are the crowds?

There is no French backstory behind this bid to pull on the heartstrings. Not really, besides an obvious love of the sport. Then again, it is does not feel necessary to have one.

Claude Atcher and now Bernard Laporte have made clear that the revenue for Japan 2019 is not expected to be high, and that France are therefore in the best position to pump money back into the sport on an international basis.

"It is fair to say that both of those bids have an emotional element," Laporte told Telegraph Sport last week. "All the bids have something special. That’s why they are all serious bids.

"Our positives are the financial aspect, the quality of the stadiums, the infrastructures with the airports and TGVs, hotels too. It will cost nothing to the French taxpayer. No rises, nothing to pay. It does not cost the state anything."

France 2023's latest projection states that the tournament would make 40 percent more revenue than England 2015, a total of €288 million (£252 million), which would be a staggering return.

If the FFR have correctly identified what World Rugby are looking for - the chance to recoup lost revenue from 2019 - then the money on offer will be hard to reject.

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