Monday 26 August 2019

Neil Francis: Realistic World Cup bid puts Irish rugby in the big time

Stepping up

Martin McGuinness, Enda Kenny, Peter Robinson
Martin McGuinness, Enda Kenny, Peter Robinson
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

If not now - well then when? A signature moment and you have to admire the ambition shown by everyone involved in the project to bring the Rugby World Cup to Ireland. With a Six Nations Championship and a southern hemisphere sweep in the bag, why is this my moment of the year?

As our rugby teams out-perform on the international stage we marvel at our ability to muster enough quality given the playing numbers on an island of only 5.5 million. We add relish to that mix by suggesting that rugby is only a minority sport on the island of Ireland.

Tabling this audacious bid and undertaking this task signals that rugby is no longer a minority sport in this land. An event of this magnitude underpins it. This country cannot realistically attempt to attract a sporting event this big, or can it? The FAI's Celtic alliance for the European Championship and Gay Mitchell's Mitty-like aspiration for the Olympics were unrealisable. RWC 2023 is very realisable.

This attempt could not progress without the help and understanding of our brothers and sisters in the GAA. A sporting organisation that has no real international dimension has willingly volunteered to make their stadia available to the bidding group and must, if the bid is successful, watch voyeur-like at an international competition which will undoubtedly pull numbers from their playing ranks. A gesture made in the knowledge that it will benefit the entire country. I applaud their magnanimity.

World Rugby claim that there are 102 countries participating in qualification. There will be 207 nations looking in with an accumulated television audience of 4.2 billion over the six weeks. There were 1.4 million paying spectators (all paying vastly inflated prices) at the 2011 New Zealand Rugby World Cup. This places the event for able-bodied athletes at third in the world behind the Olympics and the soccer World Cup. The benefit for this island economically, politically, socially and from a sports perspective are huge. 'Trickle down' I believe is the term.

We should not get carried away with any 'cross-border' initiatives, thinking that that will have an effect on where the RWC 2023 goes. However, if when I played in the first World Cup in 1987 you had asked me would I have envisaged a time when the Taoiseach, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness would appear in the same photo to promote the initiative I would have been amazed. A rugby ball instead of a Browning! On that basis alone most people would consider and endorse its merits. However, South Africa has just as big a wish list as we do.

This goes down to the IRB blazer delegates and the usual politics of back-scratching and vote trading as have all other World Cups. Ireland, though, are well placed and should have the advantage here. What an event! I believe we are ready to make that step.

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