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.

NZ Rugby World - - Contents -

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.

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