The Biased Ref – November 2017

World Rugby recently announced South Africa as its recommended venue to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Having evaluated bids from the Republic as well as France and Ireland, the bid committee declared South Africa “a clear winner” with World Rugby and Rugby World Cup Limited chairperson Bill Beaumont describing the South African presentation as “superb”. Before we can start celebrating this success and begin preparing to host the game’s global showpiece for the first time since 1995 however, there is a little matter of the recommendation of the bid committee needing to be ratified by the General Council of World Rugby. And here’s where we may, unfortunately, hit a snag……
France and Ireland have decided to not go quietly. Since ratification of the recommendation that South Africa be host in 2023 will be done by way of a vote in the General Council, the two losing countries have embarked on an aggressive campaign of lobbying Council Members to ignore their own organisation’s recommendation and vote in favour of one of the Northern Hemisphere destinations instead. It’s an unprecedented situation giving rise to some unprecedented tension. In order to further their agenda, the lobbyists are obliged to criticise South Africa, its bid, and also World Rugby.
Ireland, who by all accounts were most people’s “romantic choice” to host the event, seem particularly hurt and have come out all guns blazing. There’s barely an element of the South African bid or of the Technical Review Committee’s recommendation that they haven’t picked at. The fact that South Africa topped three of the five categories that bids were judged on – including two of the three primary categories – has come under particular fire. They are also aghast at being ranked last in all but one category themselves and are doing their utmost to convince Members that the scoring system and criteria used by the Technical Review Committee to evaluate the bids were flawed. The final scoring placed South Africa first with 78.97, France in second on 75.88 and Ireland third with 72.25 points but neither of the runners-up are prepared to accept this. French sports minister Bernard Laporte – himself a former rugby international – labelled the report “laughable”, “incompetent” and “inaccurate” while Irish RFU Chief Executive Philip Browne wrote to all World Rugby Council members to reassure them that they can vote for whichever of the three potential host nations they prefer. Browne then went on to suggest that there were concerns over South Africa’s ability to ensure full stadiums throughout the tournament and he wanted to know why this was not reflected in the recommendation report. He also highlighted security concerns, querying what mechanisms had been used in the recommendation to determine threat levels in the three regions.
The whole situation reflects extremely poorly on the French and the Irish and will reflect even more poorly on World Rugby should the General Council NOT vote in favour of confirming South Africa as hosts in 2023. That would be to go against the findings of the very independent and technical committee they themselves appointed so that there could be no claims of corruption, bias and/or prejudice when it came to naming the host nation for 2023. Why enlist experts and then disregard their finding? That’s a question many observers have been asking and its one World Rugby will have a damn difficult time answering should the Irish/French campaign meet with success in the vote which takes place on November 15. In the event of that happening then, as SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux put it: “What was the last 18 months about?”.
Curiously, despite both France and Ireland having chosen to embark on a dirty tricks campaign, The Biased Ref finds actually finds himself a little more disappointed in the Irish than in the French. It’s probably because I’ve been conditioned to expect the French to be unpredictable. And dramatic. And sneaky. And a couple of holidays in Paris have also left me in no doubt whatsoever how little regard they have for anyone who speaks English. Based on that reckon they almost feel compelled to create a scene. The Irish reaction, on the other hand, caught me a little by surprise. For some rhyme or reason they’ve always been my second-favourite team and I’ve always enjoyed the company of Irish folk. They’ve produced some of my favourite poets and musicians and have a pub culture that can’t be beaten. I’ve always imagined the average South African and average Irishman have it in common that they both like a good beer and a good fight! The fight this time pits us against eachother but at least South Africa has some heavyweight back-up in the form of World Rugby. They are, naturally, not enthusiastic about having their own process overturned and have strongly defended it. World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper responded to Irish and French critics by saying he was “not surprised by the reaction, the disappointment, the emotion” but that some of the language was “a bit excessive”. “We’d refute all of those allegations and believe we’ve run the most professional selection process not just for Rugby World Cup but probably for every sporting tournament in the world. The transparency of it, the thoroughness of it, the professionalism of it, the use of third party experts, the use of third party people overseeing that the process was extremely fair is unprecedented,” he said.
It’s to South Africa’s credit that they’ve chosen to take the high road thus far. Jurie Roux said he was confident South Africa would triumph but that if the vote was not in our favour then the country’s bosses would accept the outcome.
A total of 39 votes will be up for grabs when the General Council cast their ballots on November 15, with a simple majority determining the official hosts for 2023.

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