2023 World Cup: don’t pop corks yet
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