2023 World Cup: don’t pop corks yet

Sunday Tribune - - NEWS&VIEWS - Clin­ton van der Berg On Twit­ter: Clin­tonv

LIKE any de­cent cat fight, the claws have been out and blood has been spilled.

Any il­lu­sions about rugby’s su­pe­ri­or­ity or sup­posed brother­hood have been shot to pieces by events sur­round­ing the im­mi­nent an­nounce­ment of the host coun­try for the 2023 World Cup.

What was ex­pected to be a rea­son­ably seam­less process has been over­taken by spite and envy, with both Ire­land and France – South Africa’s ri­vals for the nod – opt­ing to fight dirty.

I was naïve to be­lieve that rugby wouldn’t go the route of soc­cer or the Olympics, with their tawdry his­tory around vot­ing for host­ing rights, and ought to have known bet­ter. When money and egos are in­volved, the fight gets ugly.

Nei­ther France nor Ire­land meekly ac­cepted the rec­om­men­da­tions of the in­de­pen­dent body that put South Africa in the driv­ing seat. You can un­der­stand them be­ing dev­as­tated at be­ing pushed to the back of the queue, but the bad-mouthing and near-hysteria is al­most un­prece­dented in rugby. Where there were dif­fer­ences in the past, these were qui­etly set­tled. Open war­fare isn’t rugby’s way.

Ire­land and France were dished up some un­com­fort­able truths and it hurt them.

Ire­land were par­tic­u­larly can­tan­ker­ous in their re­sponse, fir­ing off an an­gry let­ter to World Rugby and hint­ing at le­gal ac­tion. Rather than look in­ward at their own fail­ings, they opted to at­tack South Africa, a move un­likely to play well. So too cranky French rugby pres­i­dent Bernard La­porte’s damna­tion of the rec­om­men­da­tion as “non­sense” and “lies”.

South Africa’s re­sponse has been dig­ni­fied si­lence. Just as it ought to be.

On Wed­nes­day, we’ll have our an­swer in Lon­don and while ex­pec­ta­tions are that the 39-per­son World Rugby Coun­cil will rub­ber-stamp the rec­om­men­da­tion, you can bet that horse-trading and dou­ble-deal­ing will con­tinue up to the last. It’s a se­cret bal­lot, so while one union might say one thing, it can quite eas­ily do an­other.

The warn­ing is thus writ large: don’t pop the cham­pagne just yet.

Pre­dictably, safety and se­cu­rity have been at the heart of the barbs about South Africa’s abil­ity to host the tour­na­ment, al­though few have men­tioned that France was un­der a state of emer­gency un­til just last week. Thank­fully, while SA has dis­turb­ing lev­els of crime, ter­ror­ism isn’t some­thing we must deal with.

Crime lev­els are hor­ren­dous, but as the 2010 World Cup demon­strated, this wasn’t a crit­i­cal fac­tor in pulling off an out­stand­ing tour­na­ment. Polic­ing be­comes more vis­i­ble, mo­bile courts are set up and even the crooks seem to revel in the at­mos­phere that a World Cup en­gen­ders.

If land­ing a World Cup can help jack up the crim­i­nal justice sys­tem, mak­ing safety im­per­a­tive, al­most that alone would make do­ing so worth it.

We also need for­eign in­vest­ment and job cre­ation, par­tic­u­larly in a coun­try where the dis­par­ity be­tween rich and poor is so vast.

Win­ning the vote many good things.

It will con­cen­trate ad­min­is­tra­tors’ minds; en­sure the Spring­boks are given ev­ery­thing they re­quire to have a crack at win­ning a home World Cup (some play­ers may even opt to stick around for the chance); and will cre­ate jobs and help to boost a tired, flat econ­omy.

It will also force the hand of com­pla­cent po­lice, help lift the bleak na­tional mood, and help jus­tify hav­ing so many (ex­pen­sive) world-class sta­di­ums.

It will get us back into the habit of at­tend­ing live sport.

It may even con­vince lo­cal sta­dium oper­a­tors to wake up to the re­al­ity of the 21st cen­tury, where ma­jor in­ter­na­tional are­nas have wifi and fans need more than a boerie roll to sat­isfy their hunger.

South Africa re­quires a min­i­mum of 20 votes on Wed­nes­day. It will be a ner­vous wait be­fore the an­nounce­ment is made. The fi­nal mad scram­ble by our ri­vals might have a bear­ing on how the men in suits cast their bal­lots, but it would be highly dis­turb­ing if the vot­ing na­tions, which ex­clude the three bid­ders, went against the “clear leader” rec­om­men­da­tion.

It would in­stantly plunge world rugby into cri­sis and we’d be back in that po­si­tion so beloved of South Africans – play­ing pol­i­tics. With a nasty edge. will do

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