For an international audience, somewhere like Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney would look primitive on TV
was made of the political opportunity — how, as an all-Ireland initiative, backed by politicians on both sides of the border and heavily promoted by the tourism bodies — this glittering tournament could help heal old divisions.
“After the complex history of this island over the past 100 years, there would be something very special about the tournament being held here and I think it’s something that will be considered in the shake-up,” a top IRFU official told Review a couple of weeks ago.
It was also hoped that the presence of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the official bid submission in London last month, alongside ‘ambassador’ Brian O’Driscoll, would help Ireland’s case.
Varadkar — who was minister for sport when it was first mooted that Ireland should bid for the 2023 tournament — spoke persuasively about how a World Cup on this island would be unlike any other, and it was felt his presence helped with the ‘optics’ the French bid so palpably lacked.
Its president, Emmanuel Macron, was conspicuously absent and, furthermore, had not contributed to the French promotional videos. It was reported that Macron had been keen to distance himself from Bernard Laporte, president of the French Rugby Federation, who has been embroiled in controversy having allegedly used his influence to have a €70,000 fine handed down to Montpellier reduced to €20,000.
Instead, like the South African bid, France promised to get the chequebook out. They pledged to overpay by €33m the €135m fee required by World Rugby to host the tournament. And, in the event, South Africa committed even more money in their bid.
Many, including former international Tony Ward — now an Irish Independent columnist — assumed that because both South Africa and France had previously held the tournament, organisers would be keen to venture into unchartered territory.
And, yet, it may have been fears about when Japan takes the mantle in 2019 that helped make the technical group jittery about a World Cup here. Progress has been behind schedule in Japan and there have been concerns that the country’s eye is not on the oval ball game, but rather the Tokyo Olympics which will take place in 2020.
Rather than be seduced by the idea of unchartered waters, the assessors noted the experience South Africa and France have when it comes to not just hosting the Rugby World Cup but the much larger football equivalent, too. Ireland’s track record with the Special Olympics, Ryder Cup and opening stages of cycling’s Giro d’Italia was recorded, but it was pointed out that such events pale into comparison with the world’s fourth largest sporting tournament.
“The bid was centred on emotion,” says Irish Independent rugby correspondent Rúaidhrí O’Connor, “but that was never something the technical group were going to consider. It’s disappointing, though, that Ireland wasn’t able to show it was a much safer location than either France or South Africa.”
And while O’Connor says few could argue that our stadia don’t match up to the competition, they are superior to those of New Zealand, which hosted the tournament in 2011. “Our lesser stadiums are better than their weaker ones,” he says, “and our better stadiums are better than their better ones.”
But it now looks unlikely that Croke Park, Thomond Park and Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be hosting a tournament to remember in six years’ time.