S Africa eyes 2023 WC as bat­tle ends

The Phnom Penh Post - - SPORT -

THE fog of war that has af­flicted the race to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup will lift today and is ex­pected to re­veal South Africa as out­right vic­tor to stage the qua­dren­nial show­piece.

Two weeks ago the Rugby World Cup board re­leased a re­port plac­ing South Africa first across a range of cri­te­ria on which the can­di­dates were as­sessed, rang­ing from sta­di­ums to fi­nan­cial as­sur­ances

France, sec­ond, and Ire­land, third, came out swing­ing in re­sponse to the re­port and have been as com­bat­ive as their play­ers on the pitch, slam­ming the find­ings that placed South Africa in the driv­ing seat.

World Rugby replied with clar­i­fi­ca­tions, but it is now up to the 39 votes on its coun­cil to de­cide whether they ac­cept the unan­i­mous de­ci­sion of the Rugby World Cup board to award South Africa the host­ing rights for the sec­ond time.

South Africa hosted the iconic 1995 edi­tion, which saw the first black pres­i­dent of the coun­try, Nel­son Man­dela – adorned in a Spring­bok jer­sey, then seen as one of the pil­lars of white apartheid rule – hand­ing the tro­phy to white South Africa cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar.

Rugby ‘a great uni­fier’

South Africa’s vice pres­i­dent, Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the ar­chi­tects of the rel­a­tively peace­ful tran­si­tion from apartheid, said a 2023 World Cup in the coun­try would serve as af­fir­ma­tion of much of what the late Man­dela stood for.

“In 1995 it was an al­most­white team,” Ramaphosa said when he added his size­able po­lit­i­cal weight to the fi­nal pre­sen­ta­tion in Septem­ber.

“In 2023 it will be a di­verse rugby team and prove to the world what Nel­son Man­dela said – that rugby is a great uni­fier. It will be played out in re­al­ity that, a coun­try com­ing from a sad past, we will have achieved Nel­son Man- dela’s dream of a true rain­bow na­tion.”

Ire­land too have in­vested a huge amount of po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal into the bid, with Ir­ish prime min­is­ter Leo Varad­kar lead­ing the bid pre­sen­ta­tion and se­cur­ing the sup­port of his Bri­tish coun­ter­part Theresa May – plus the cross-bor­der sup­port of all the North­ern Ir­ish par­ties.

Philip Browne, the CEO of the Ir­ish Rugby Foot­ball Union (IRFU), ad­mit­ted on Fri­day that not even Al­bert Ein­stein could help rec­on­cile World Rugby’s vi­sion of the tour­na­ment with Ire­land’s views.

“In our let­ter [seek­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion], we had a great say­ing by Al­bert Ein­stein, and here I para­phrase him: ‘There are a lot of things that can be counted which don’t ac­tu­ally count and there are lots of things that count that can’t be counted’,” he said.

“In some re­spect that comes down to our vi­sion and what we are of­fer­ing. A World Cup in Ire­land would be a par­tic­u­lar World Cup, some­thing which fans round the world would have en­joyed.

“But ap­par­ently that wasn’t part of the over­all vi­sion World Rugby had for it.”

The French would de­liver the most money for the sport, but their bid has been be­dev­illed by in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal prob­lems sur­round­ing fed­er­a­tion Pres­i­dent Bernard La­porte and also their de­ci­sion to fly over the young sons of the late All Blacks leg­end Jonah Lomu for the fi­nal pre­sen­ta­tion that back­fired spec­tac­u­larly.

The ir­re­press­ible La­porte – who guided France to two suc­ces­sive World Cup semis as coach and sub­se­quently served as a min­is­ter un­der pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy – has not minced his words in re­sponse to the as­sess­ment on a whole range of top­ics from se­cu­rity to dop­ing to ho­tels.

“We are not rated as well over dop­ing be­cause they tell us that we are too strict! On se­cu­rity, we have the same num­ber of points even though there are 52 mur­ders a day in South Africa,” La­porte said ear­lier this month.

JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP

South Africa cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar is con­grat­u­lated by South African Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela af­ter the Spring­boks won the Rugby World Cup on June 24, 1995, in Jo­han­nes­burg.

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