Sunday 25 August 2019

Neil Francis: We need to up the ante to stay in World Cup frame

An increased financial bid is essential in the next fortnight - this is about more than just rugby

Ireland's bid for the 2023 World Cup has suffered a setback but there's still time to recover. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's bid for the 2023 World Cup has suffered a setback but there's still time to recover. Photo: Sportsfile
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

If you ever get the chance you could do worse than listen to Buffy Sainte Marie's immaculate 'The Big Ones Get Away.' A truly beautiful song, wonderfully crafted with powerful lyrics about money, greed and corruption.

Hey, Baby I just got back from town

Where the bribes are paid

Honey, they turned my offer down

They say the deal's already made

So now I gotta stand and watch

While it all comes down

And the buzzards and the hawks

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And the judges and the mob

Circle round

If the bad guys don't get you

Then the good guys will

With angels on the take

And gangsters in the yard

"Angels on the take" - it's a great line. Anyone care to explain Qatar to me? In 2022 they are going to hold the FIFA World Cup in a desert in 50C heat in a country where you can't drink in public. FIFA, we know, are utterly corrupt. To feel shame you have to have a conscience or a soul.

As these deals are done, the skill of the accomplished ear-benders and wallet-fillers come to the fore and human nature takes its course. Most of them are money-grabbing invertebrates whose moral dipstick is about two drops short of bone dry.

Our lot do have integrity and a moral compass - I don't believe money changes hands but I do think that promises are broken and buying and selling supercedes all in the lead-up to a Rugby World Cup bid. It is like the Lord and the Devil playing poker for souls on the Spanish train.


I had an enormous amount of texts and calls on Tuesday. "What happened?" Nothing happened on Tuesday. World Rugby published a 220-page submission put together by a 20-man team. Nobody has been awarded anything. Remember this! The working party evaluate. The council members nominate. How much weight does a recommendation for a preferred bidder carry?

I have heard anecdotally that only New Zealand have said that they will go with the preferred bidder. We have no idea whether they officially said that and no certainty that if they did say it that they will vote that way.

New Zealand got the 2011 World Cup with the help of our vote - reciprocation plays a large part in the political power-plays that eventually lead to a successful nomination.

Let's look at it this way - if New Zealand were in the mix right now how would their bid process stand up to scrutiny?

Not well I would suggest - would their score even get into the 70s?.

Nobody doubts the impartiality and broad range of work when adjudicating all the criteria but in the bid process New Zealand won the right to host in 2011 the old-fashioned way - buying and selling and compromise and promise.

The 2023 bid will go down the same road and so Ireland's committee are absolutely right. Nothing is decided, carry on with the plan. The only thing we can deduct is that all three countries are capable of hosting a World Cup. Ireland are very much alive and kicking.

I have to say that our Gallic cousins have shown some neck in the whole process. Firstly, they come over here in February wearing France 2023 emblazoned on their jerseys. Now we Irish are a fairly sanguine bunch and so we didn't take offence.

We did what any self-respecting nation would do - we gave them a good hiding on the pitch and sent them home with their tails between their legs.

We will forgive them their lack of decorum on that occasion. I would just wonder how solid are the foundations of their bid?

Yes, they have done it all before, they have the infrastructure and the know-how. How enthusiastic and definitive is their pitch? Just where were they coming from when they resorted to bringing Jonah Lomu's sons to front the bid.

Their president Emmanuel Macron takes his leave and robs them of any momentum and Bernard Laporte's indiscretions in Montpellier sully the process even further.

How many council votes have they been promised? How certain are they of support? Laporte, one of the great opportunists, was quick to make a statement after the report was published.

It would, he states, be a straight fight between France and South Africa. Ireland have been effectively eliminated. Nice try Bernard - it, I suppose, had to be done. Kill off your opposition in what could be perceived to be a moment of weakness.

Bernard knows only too well that nothing is decided either and knows that most of Ireland's supporters would likely vote for France if Ireland were out of the race.

We may borrow from the USA, one of our likely supporters, a line in the 'Star Spangled Banner' - "gave proof through the night that our flag was still there".

Third place after the evaluation means nothing. A tiny setback.

And so here is what needs to happen. I would be fairly certain that no side would have the simple majority of 20 votes after the first ballot.

You can never take anything for granted but you would be disappointed if Scotland, Wales and England didn't give us their support. Italy, our PRO14 partners, may side with the French but if the French are gone… and I would be confident of the Canadian and American vote.

New Zealand have been strong supporters but may go with the preferred bidder who got them over the line in 2006 when they needed friends to get RWC 2011.

Politically, New Zealand have tricky relationships with France and South Africa.

Australia is a key vote - I hope Michael D remembered what he was really in Australia for in the last few weeks.

The single votes? Romania, Georgia etc.? Where is Pat Hickey when you need to appeal to the blazers from the so-called minnow countries?

There is every chance that South Africa could finish third in voting. You just never know what will happen in the vital two weeks between last Tuesday and November 15.

If Ireland finish second after the first ballot they have a really good chance of picking up most of the votes of the third-placed candidate.


For Ireland to be in a position to do this, one thing must happen. Ireland must increase their financial bid.

Everyone knows that our bid was set at £120 million (€137m) as a financial contribution. Everything is negotiable, everything is open to change. Leo, if you are reading this you need to open the purse strings by as much as €50 million.

Every last council member going to vote on the 15th needs to know that Ireland have upped their bid. It is probably not allowed in the rules and regulations but that does not really matter.

Going into that room, if every council member knows that Ireland have upped their bid and can come to the party with say €50 million more - that will be enough.

Make the phone call, Leo and think trickle-down economics and you might still be in power when the show comes to town.

We might not think this - but this is a huge moment for this island.

The fourth biggest event on the planet in the sporting calendar. They can all retire in Bord Fáilte if we get it.

It would be a sporting party in party central. The money increase, official or unofficial, has to come. I hope phone calls have already been made.

It was a slight setback on Tuesday. We are very much in it. A decision that is so much more than just about rugby. Hold your breath.

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