RWC: It would have been great craic

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Keith Dug­gan

Oh, they’ve done it now, those elit­ists of World Rugby, pour­ing cold wa­ter and even colder tech­ni­cal crit­i­cism on Ire­land’s big dreams of host­ing the rugby world cup of wel­comes, of ma­jor craic and of any­thing up to 10,000 weep­ing Ja­panese rugby tourists wan­der­ing through Salthill and greater Knock­nacarra in search of that elu­sive sta­dium they call Pearse.

Down with their nar­row ac­coun­tants’ souls and their dull in­sis­tence on te­dious de­tails like “in­fra­struc­ture” and “fi­nance” over the aes­thet­i­cally un­beat­able vi­sion of (at ran­dom) Ar­gentina ver­sus Ro­ma­nia in Kil­lar­ney on one of those tawny af­ter­noons when the moun­tains are shrouded in mist and the pubs are ef­fin’ jam­mers.

Curse their in­nate cau­tion and in­stinct to­wards fear when, upon leaf­ing through Ire­land’s bid, they Google-Earthed Case­ment Park, the pro­posed Belfast venue, to find the place en­tirely aban­doned and boarded up, its pitch a tiny na­ture re­serve, its ter­races over­grown and noth­ing to de­note its former life ex­cept a for­got­ten jock strap and a wee ket­tle still in work­ing con­di­tion in the ref­eree’s room.

Damn their lily-liv­ered at­ti­tude to the small de­tail that many of the Ir­ish venues didn’t have flood­lights “as such”. Just yet. Could they not sim­ply ac­cept that they’d be horsed up well in ad­vance – weeks, like – ahead of the open­ing match?

Curse their di­min­ish­ing of Dáil Éire­ann’s eter­nal op­ti­mist, Min­is­ter for Sport Shane Ross, who, like JFK in the Camelot era, is un­afraid to ask “why not?”

As re­cently as July, that month when the world’s rugby play­ers are al­lowed time to take a brief hol­i­day, Min­is­ter Ross was to be heard ex­tolling the lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties of the Emer­ald Isle as a hub for multi­bil­lion sports events, not­ing that if the World Cup bid was suc­cess­ful, then the Olympic Games would be­come “a real, re­al­is­tic bid”.

Grey wing

“The sky’s the limit,” Our Man In Sport told an Oireach­tas com­mit­tee, en­abling the Sen­a­tors to dare to dream of the day when the Olympic BMX freestyle heats might just be staged in a pur­pose-built venue out­side Car­low town. Was it for this – the chance to con­vert the com­mu­nity swim­ming pool in West­port into a ¤15 mil­lion state of the art Olympic wa­ter-polo venue where the Croats and Serbs might go at it with aban­don – the wild geese spread the grey wing on every tide? Yes, the Rosser promised. Yes, it bloody was.

So down with World Rugby for dash­ing that kind of bold dream­ing in a small coun­try and for not trust­ing the true mes­sage of the Ir­ish bid which was surely trans­lat­able into any lan­guage: Look it, it’ll be grand.

The ef­fect of the mer­ci­less and heart­less grad­ing by World Rugby has been to make the Ir­ish feel, well, de-graded on the in­ter­na­tional stage once again. It pro­voked an in­stant and in­evitable bout of snap-ex­am­i­na­tion of self and soul.

Was poor Ire­land the laugh­ing stock in pri­vate mem­bers’ clubs all over the world? Were we de­luded to think that the king­mak­ers of World Rugby would ever con­de­scend to make do with the Ir­ish wine list for a full month? Was it pure self-in­dul­gence to think that the sight of Drico in Full Metal Charm mode, lead­ing an Ir­ish del­e­ga­tion all wear­ing cute, match­ing emer­ald ties and best-boy smiles, would sway the mind­set of the kind of peo­ple who come to hold down a seat on rugby’s most cor­po­rate and fi­nan­cially savvy board?

The bid eval­u­a­tion re­port was such a damn­ing put-down of Mother Ire­land and her sta­dia that it was hard not to sud­denly see the coun­try as inept, delu­sional and crim­i­nally want­ing in 4G cover­age.

What the re­port made clear is to what World Rugby wants is a tour­na­ment that could be held Any­where. They want big modern in­dis­tin­guish­able bowl sta­di­ums like Stade de France (eas­ily one of the grimmest spots on this good planet) and big roads and lots of trains. They want their tour­na­ment to be so stream­lined that apart from the lan­guage it won’t make a dif­fer­ence to whether the venues are in Cape Town or Paris.

World Rugby wanted “to en­sure ev­i­dence-based ob­jec­tiv­ity” while the Ir­ish bid was promis­ing the ex­otic: a two o’clock Test match in Castle­bar and din­ner at seven in Nevin Maguire’s if you are up for tak­ing the short cut through Dowra.

Some­where at the heart of Ire­land’s bid was an in­stinc­tive be­lief – no, a cer­tainty – that they could host a tour­na­ment that would be won­der­ful pre­cisely be­cause it wouldn’t be stream­lined and be­cause it would be like Nowhere Else. Celtic Park is like nowhere else. Fitzger­ald Sta­dium is like nowhere else. (And they missed all kinds of tricks in not in­clud­ing Clones).

Damp and a bit squiffy

Deep down, ev­ery­one knows Ire­land could do it. Yes, it would have been a strange world cup: slightly-off-the-cuff, some­what damp and a bit squiffy. No doubt it would have cost an ab­so­lute for­tune. (But then, so did that pe­riod known as “the Boom”).

And no ques­tion that in years to come, a cow­boy or two would have been found to have been se­ri­ously on the make. There would prob­a­bly have been a post-Ire­land RWC fall out, maybe a full-blown scan­dal and even a tri­bunal of in­quiry.

Against that, it would have been great craic. And it would have been cul­tur­ally mag­nif­i­cent: a unique cross­over be­tween the smooth and bland ex­pec­ta­tions of World Rugby and the time-hon­oured way of deal­ing with mas­sive sport­ing fix­tures in the heart of Ire­land, which is to throw up a few traf­fic cones, or­der in ex­tra kegs and keep the fin­gers crossed.

Oh, to be a fly on the deluxe in­te­rior on the day when Sir Clive Wood­ward, stuck in one of those eter­nal traf­fic jams out­side MacHale Park, would have rolled down the win­dow of the Rolls-Royce to have a lo­cal stew­ard ad­vis­ing him that it was “ba­nanas” on the Lawn Road and that his best bet was to ditch it up be­hind the Ba­con Fac­tory and walk the rest of the way.

To be there at that mo­ment ap­proach­ing six in the evening when the care­taker of a Thomond or a Salthill would ma­te­ri­alise in the press box and, with a mean­ing­ful jan­gle of his keys, en­quire of Sean Fitzpa­trick, Michael Ly­nagh and the other folk-heroes-turned-me­dia-per­form­ers: Have yez no homes to go to? Some of us, he would tell them in a sad voice, have been here since six o’clock in the morn­ing.

But con­jur­ing up th­ese sce­nar­ios for an ad­ju­di­cat­ing group whose mind­set is locked into a rigidly de­fined set of cri­te­ria proved sadly im­pos­si­ble. The tour­na­ment will go to one of those big­ger, sun­nier and more ef­fi­cient coun­tries, leav­ing we in Ire­land to laugh mirth­lessly at the de­fi­cien­cies which the World Rugby has now made us so painfully aware – our sta­di­ums, our telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, our in­fra­struc­ture.

No, it would have re­quired real imag­i­na­tion for World Rugby to see things the Ir­ish way. In the end, they couldn’t quite make that leap.

The time-hon­oured way of deal­ing with mas­sive sport­ing fix­tures in the heart of Ire­land is to throw up a few traf­fic cones, or­der in ex­tra kegs and keep the fin­gers crossed

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