IRFU chiefs not prepared to give up on their World Cup bid until the votes are cast
‘THE IRFU IS OPTIMISTIC THE VOTE CAN STILL GO ITS WAY’
WAR of the World was how we teed up World Rugby’s October 31 release of an evaluation report which would recommend one of three bids to host the 2023 World Cup.
The fall-out since, though, has been nuclear. The endorsement of South Africa over France or Ireland has not, it’s fair to say, been universally well received. Rather than presenting World Rugby with a recommendation that could be voted through without fuss in London on Wednesday, it will be a bitter fight to the end.
It’s both regrettable and incredible that it has come to this, with third-placed IRFU and their second-placed French counterparts washing dirty linen in public with their criticism of a report compiled by companies such as The Sports Consultancy, Dow Jones Sports Intelligence (DJSI), International Management Group (IMG), Marsh Insurance, Clifford Chance and Ernst and Young (EY).
Yet, while the bickering unions are putting their own reputations on the line by crying foul, it does highlight the depth of dissatisfaction about a two-stage process where part one – this technical evaluation report – was an unproven method in use for the first time.
World Rugby’s response has been predictable − nothing to see here folks, now move along! The governing body claims it has dealt privately with all clarifications sought by the wailing unions.
That may well be the case. However, it can’t defend the fact that none of the three countries had any idea precisely what percentage points would be allocated to each of the five categories they were examined on in advance of the report’s publication.
For instance, no one knew venues and host cities would account for 30 per cent of the examination, compared to just five per cent allocated to tournament organisation and schedule.
Not that the IRFU is immune from criticism. It looked amateurish shortly after its official bid launch last November when it emerged it neglected to contact the Welsh Rugby Union to clarify whether a deal struck for the 1999 World Cup would still need to be honoured. Ireland, France, England and Scotland hosted matches in that tournament on the proviso Wales would be given games if they ever hosted future tournaments − France 2007 and England 2015 had Wales as a part-host.
However, the IRFU is flabbergasted it was left in the dark by World Rugby over how important its stadium plan – the use of some smaller GAA grounds that would require more than a lick of paint to match the modern, bigger stadia in South Africa and France – would be in the overall marking of their €4million bid.
If it knew the weighting criteria it could have called it quits years ago instead of being left red-faced.
‘We asked them the whole way along,’ insisted an IRFU source. ‘Had they been clear with us at the start and said stadiums would be weighted in a certain way we could have made a decision then on whether we would have had any chance of getting the recommendation.
‘Our bid was very professionally done and that is why there was such a surprise as to the way the weightings went so against us. A lot of money and a lot of time has gone into this from a government and IRFU level and that is the reason we are going to the final whistle because the weighting was not equitably done.
‘Brett Gosper (World Rugby CEO) sort of said this the other day on Sky when he was asked if he was effectively saying that no small country can go for it now.
‘He kind of said well it depends on who they are going against.
‘That is not the answer. If the weighting is always going to be the same, that would exclude us from going for 2027 even if we wanted to because France will probably go for it. They are going to have to have a look at the review process again. It’s the first time they have done it. Is it perfect? Certainly not. They should admit that themselves.’
While it was noticeable on Friday that the cinematic IRFU bid video was no longer playing on the loop in the lobby of its Lansdowne Road HQ, the union insists it is still travelling to Wednesday’s council vote optimistic the secret ballot can somehow be swung against the odds. Irish charm and all that.
‘We’re getting on to a lot of people, there is a lot of calls being made and we’re hopeful. We’re still very hopeful,’ was its weekend message, adding it has no regrets it came out swinging in public after the World Rugby report’s findings.
It wasn’t about getting angry for the sake of it, more about being heard.
‘They made their report public, so we had to make a decision. We felt if we have an issue we should let people know about it,’ added the source.
It is now down to last-minute politicking before the 39 votes are cast in three days’ time.
‘People are holding their cards close to their chest and we don’t think it is over. A lot of the information that came out from us and from France has put that bit of doubt into people.
‘Even if we were the preferred bidder we’d still have (Ireland’s World Rugby delegates) Pat Whelan and John O’Driscoll on the phone making sure votes are secured. There are no guarantees.’
War of the World indeed.