Though the Rugby World Cup Board have thrown a fast early ball to South Africa by declaring them as the preferred candidate, the race to stage the 2023 World Cup is far from run.
The French and Irish bids have not been discouraged by the head start South Africa enjoys and say they will fight to the bitter end and the final vote.
Ireland host the Boks in Dublin today and the bidding war will add another dimension to what is already expected to be a ferocious battle. But confirmation from New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew that their three votes would follow the recommendation in the evaluation report is reason for South African optimism.
The French and Irish bid teams have highlighted what they believe are a number of flaws in the evaluation report. French Federation president Bernard Laporte has described the report as nonsense and the result of incompetence, and the World Cup Board hit back by describing Laporte’s comments as unfounded and inaccurate.
Because of the decision to name South Africa as the preferred candidate, the Rugby World Cup Council has been urged to award them the coveted hosting rights when they vote on Wednesday.
But whether the council take heed of their “master’s voice” and toe the party the line remains unclear. The old saying that there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip comes to mind as rugby readies itself for Wednesday’s vote.
It would, however, be a huge surprise if the council defied the World Cup Board. Worryingly, however, one bid team member has said they would like to see the council vote against an independent company – to which they had paid a bucket-load of money – that sets the criteria.
Whether they will do that is another matter. SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux has urged World Rugby Council members to show integrity and vote in accordance with the technical committee’s recommendations and it appears World Rugby’s big bosses are demanding the same.
When South Africa hosted the Nelson Mandelainspired 1995 World Cup it was so successful it prompted a Clint Eastwood-directed Hollywood movie. Now we could be in for the 2023 sequel, though it would be take something extraordinary to top the Rainbow Nation script of 22 years ago.
With South Africa being named as the preferred candidate by the influential Rugby World Cup Board, those heady days of Francois Pienaar lifting the trophy have come flooding back. South Africans, though, should be wary about counting their chickens before they hatch.
South African rugby is badly in need of a shot in the arm and staging the World Cup would be the ideal tonic to put the oval sport code back on its feet. The national team’s form has been patchy to say the least; top players are being lured overseas and there has been an alarming drop off in crowd attendance.
It has been estimated that a South African World Cup would be the most profitable to World Rugby in the tournament’s history.
South Africa’s bid book has projected a record 2.9 million tickets sold and the biggest-ever World Cup final in stadium attendance of 94 000 at the National Stadium in Johannesburg.
Apart from the final, the National Stadium will also host the opening match and a semifinal – if South Africa is awarded the hosting rights. So how will Wednesday’s voting process will work?
❑ None of the three bidding nations (South Africa, France and Ireland) is permitted to vote.
❑ The bid which receives a simple majority of the 39 available votes will be named as the host.
❑ Those eligible to vote in the secret ballot will be Australia (3 votes), England (3), New Zealand (3), Scotland (3), Wales (3), Italy (3), Argentina (3), Canada (1), Japan (2), Georgia (1), Romania (1), USA (1), Asia Rugby (2), Oceania Rugby (2), Rugby Africa (2), Rugby Americas North (2), Rugby Europe (2), Sudamerica Rugby (2).
❑ In the event that none of the host candidates receives a simple majority in the first round, the candidate with the least number of votes will drop out before a second ballot.
❑ The host country will be announced immediately after the vote at any time from 3.30pm, depending on how long the vote takes. South Africa, if they get the nod, are also planning to leave a lasting legacy.
As part of SA Rugby’s Legacy Project, they are planning to introduce one million new young South Africans to rugby between now and 2027.
All the Rugby World Cup Council have to do now is to throw the ball to South Africa and tell them to run with it. South Africa will be holding its breath on Wednesday when the votes are tallied.