Taoiseach in swipe at South Africa as he insists Irish bid 'still alive'
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has taken aim at South Africa's bid to host the Rugby World Cup, warning they will have "half-empty stadiums".
In an unexpectedly pointed intervention, Varadkar suggested decision-makers will make a big mistake if they accept the South African bid. His comments came shortly after South African Rugby CEO Jurie Roux called on Ireland to pull out of the race to host the 2023 tournament.
He said Ireland should "stick to the moral high ground".
However, Varadkar went on the offensive, saying the Irish bid is "still alive".
"We won't be pulling out," he said, adding: "It's now down to votes and we'll be campaigning for votes between now and November 15."
Ireland's bid for the tournament was ranked last in a technical review when compared with South Africa and France. Ireland finished on a score of 72.25pc out of 100, behind South Africa (78.97pc) and France (75.88pc).
The technical review group compared each country on: vision and hosting concept, tournament organisation and schedule, venues and host cities, tournament infrastructure and financial, commercial and commitment.
Responding to the review, Varadkar said there were "only a few percentage points between the three bids and it seems that the areas we fell down on, at least in terms of the technical assessment, was our stadiums and our stadium infrastructure.
"But if you look at what we have already it's a much better stadium infrastructure than New Zealand had when they hosted the Rugby World Cup back in 2011. It was always part of our bid to upgrade our stadiums over the next five years. There's money there to do exactly that," he said.
The Taoiseach then went further to argue that if the rugby unions accept the technical review they will be effectively voting for a poorly-attended tournament.
"What we want is a tournament where people see matches in full stadiums in the middle of rugby communities in our cities rather than in big soccer stadiums on the outskirts of our cities that would be half-empty. That's part of the case we'll be making to the rugby unions," he said.
The Irish submission involves games in Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Galway, Killarney, Belfast, Kilkenny and Castlebar.