Sky’s Tony Johnson says World Rugby isn’t to blame for the 2023 World Cup voting debacle.
TONY JOHNSON IS A COMMENTATOR AND PRESENTER FOR SKY TV’S RUGBY COVERAGE IN NEW ZEALAND.
THE DECISION TO award Rugby World Cup 2023 to France will no doubt have the money people secretly rubbing their hands together with glee.
But on the outside looking in, the governing body has been made to look foolish, and many of its member nations greedy and selfish.
World Rugby commissioned an exhaustive evaluation process, believed to have cost in the vicinity of a million dollars, that rated the three contender nations on a variety of criteria and came up with a strong recommendation that the tournament be held in South Africa.
It is easy to blame World Rugby and the RWC Board for the ensuing farce, but it would not be fair to do so.
Perhaps the only real mistake they made was to reveal the findings of the working group two weeks before the final vote, thus inviting the very outbreak of lobbying, shady promises and back stabbing that the new process was supposed to eliminate.
Fair to say, then, that their only other error was to put their faith in their member nations to abide by a system that they themselves had promoted, one that was supposed to make the final decision far easier to arrive at.
The only other thing the recommendation succeeded in doing was to put a gash in the hull of an Ireland bid that was sunk in the first round of voting.
Bit of a shame that. It would have been nice to see those fans that have brought so much joy and revelry to other tournaments, getting to enjoy being the genial hosts for a change.
There is no question that the Emerald Isle is a great place to watch rugby and enjoy the unique brand of hospitality... although their reaction to last year’s return All Blacks match in Dublin showed they’re as capable of turning dog as the next bloke when things don’t go according to their wildest dreams.
But whilst on the surface it looked a fun place to have a World Cup, their bid came up surprisingly short over some major requirements, and they were pretty much doomed from the off.
Still, the Irish have cause to be aggrieved with the lack of support from their neighbours, most notably those with whom they have strong historic ties and do business with in the strategically crucial Pro12 championship.
Scotland went for the money and voted for France. Wales were less traitorous in that they put their faith in the judgement of their chairman Gareth Davies, the former test fly-half who was a member of the evaluation team that recommended South Africa.
But England did back the Ireland bid, and had the Celtic cuzzies done likewise it would have been South Africa bowing out at the first hurdle [as in 2005] and a second round vote between France and Ireland.
That would have meant those who supported South Africa initially having to switch their votes, and it does seem quite likely that New Zealand for one, would have backed Ireland, having expressed some enthusiasm for their bid before the recommendation came out.
It could have been a different story, but it wasn’t and it’s hard not to sympathise with the Irish.
One positive note, albeit a minor one, was a rare display of solidarity by Sanzaar.
New Zealand, Australia and Argentina all voted for their partner South Africa.
I’ll admit I was surprised when New Zealand Rugby was so quick to reveal their intention to support their great on-field rivals, immediately following the initial publication of the working party findings, but in hindsight it makes sense.
They were not just making a statement of support, they were putting a line in the sand, doing what others had promised to do but didn’t.
They were keeping a commitment to go with the RWC Board recommendation, and were also, in effect, telling France not to bother trying to change their mind in the way they were clearly able to do others.
Having chosen their own course against the interests of New Zealand over the 2003 and 2011 World Cups, Australia this time went with the consensus, and Argentina backed South Africa because Gus Pichot, who has inexplicably become the most influential figure in the World Rugby ranks right now, would have told them to.
So take a bow Sanzaar, for once not divided by self interest.
The actions of the Celtic nations were not the end of the bafflement. How South Africa will feel about supporting the cause of the smaller African nations in future after they fell for the ‘charms’ of the French is anyone’s guess. And having already shown less than total enthusiasm for Japanese involvement in Super Rugby, they’re not exactly going to be leading the calls for Japan in the Rugby Championship after they too backed the French.
And the Pacific nations, Oceania by name, after complaining rightly about their past lack of influence, were given two votes and reportedly split them between two countries, effectively cancelling each other out.
But now the decision is made, what does it mean for the future.?
Well, firstly we can look forward to a good tournament in 2023. It is of course an obscenely short time between drinks, but France 2007 was pretty good.
It was not perfect, thanks to the penchant for the French trade unions and farmers to cause mayhem when something important is going on, and there is also the genuine fear of more of the terrorist activity that has hit the Republic in recent years.
So be prepared for a new level of security measures, but it is a great country to visit and it will be a fabulous travel experience for those who can afford, and this time there will not be those ludicrous sojourns to Wales and Scotland.
And of course it will make lots of money to spread around the game. Yes, greed has been a big part of the decision, but rugby will benefit from the stratospheric profits.
But it is very bad news, terminal in fact, for the smaller nations like us, and for Ireland whose fans will have to get over their disappointment and accept that their future in the game will continue to be lighting up everyone else’s party.
And South Africa will hope that the nation holds together and can mount an even stronger bid in four years time, and break up a run of three straight tournaments in the Northern Hemisphere.
If not, then we can safely assume that from here on in, money rules and nothing else matters.
BACK AGAIN It is a little strange that France hosted the World Cup as recently as 2007.