Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has made a forthright intervention in the battle for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, insisting that the Irish bid was “still alive” and that “we won’t be pulling out”.
Speaking in Seattle during his first visit to the United States as Prime Minister, Varadkar told the Irish Independent that there were “only a few percentage points between the three bids and it seems that the areas we fell down on, at least in terms of the technical assessment, was our stadiums and our stadium infrastructure”.
He went on: “But if you look at what we have already, it is a much better stadium infrastructure than New Zealand had when they hosted the Rugby World Cup back in 2011.
“It was always part of our bid to upgrade our stadiums over the next five years.
“There is money there to do exactly that.”
He also took aim at bidding contest favourite South Africa’s ability to attract good crowds to a World Cup on its soil, arguing:
“What we want is a tournament where people see matches in full stadiums in the middle of rugby communities in our cities rather than in big soccer stadiums on the outskirts of our cities that would be half-empty.
“That is part of the case we will be making to the rugby unions.”
World Rugby’s all-male 31-strong Council is due to decide on the host in London on November 15.
There are three candidates: France, Ireland and South Africa.
Varadkar’s comments followed Tuesday’s publication of a 139-page evaluation report recommending that the competition go to South Africa.
The nation of the Springboks scored 78.97 per cent in the evaluation, against 75.88 per cent for France and 72.25 per cent for Ireland.
However, the report emphasised that “any of the three candidates could host a successful Rugby World Cup”.
The recommendation was made by the Rugby World Cup Limited board of directors, which comprises Bill Beaumont, President; Agustín Pichot, vice-president; Gareth Davies of Wales, Mike Hawker, an independent member and chief executive Brett Gosper.
Three of these men – Beaumont, who is the World Rugby chairman, along with Pichot, vice-chairman, and Davies – are Council members.
South African Rugby Union chief executive Jurie Roux has urged rival bidders, “like us”, to “stick to the moral high ground”, adding:
“You cannot add any more information, you cannot present to anybody, you cannot do any more presentations ... all you can do is ask for the process to take its normal course and hopefully not be part of anything untoward.”
But while it is generally accepted that the southern hemisphere bidder has the inside track, there now looks to be every prospect of a lively conclusion to the campaign.
Dick Spring, chairman of the Ireland 2023 bid oversight board, also had his say on Thursday, stating:
“There is in place a democratic process, whereby the Council members of World Rugby, through their vote, are the ultimate arbitrators of who will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
“To undermine this process in any way does a disservice to the entire structure…
“We continue to believe, as the report has confirmed and many others across the World Rugby firmament believe, that Ireland, as a new host, offers the best option for the tournament in 2023, truly a tournament like no other.
“Ireland is now in dialogue with its many friends throughout World Rugby and their initial response to us has been one of surprise at the evaluation report and its findings.
“As we have previously stated Ireland’s team will compete to the final whistle as we bid to turn our historic bid plans into reality.”