Why Ireland Shouldn’t Host The 2023 World Cup

It’s still nine years away from happening but already several nations have expressed interest in hosting the 2013 World Cup. Italy, Argentina, U.S.A., and Ireland are some of the known countries but there will likely be a few others (South Africa has been mentioned) that throw their hats into the ring as the time gets closer. Of those teams that have expressed interest the smart money is on either Italy or Ireland hosting.

The IRB went a little out of their typical pattern when they awarded the 2019 World Cup to Japan. Up until they made that decision the World Cup had been given to a Tier I country. There are plenty of reasons why they have done that—rewarding established fan bases, venues, etc.,–but mostly it comes down to IRB politics. The IRB is still ruled by a few top governing bodies and they aren’t too keen to do anything that would take away potential revenue from one of their governing boards. The move to award Japan the World Cup was only done because a World Cup in Japan is a near guarantee to make money.

With the IRB wanting to bring the tournament back to an established country Italy and Ireland make sense from their point of view. Even though Italy is not in the same category as England or Australia the tournament could improve the state of rugby in that country which would bolster the rest of the Six Nations.

Ireland has been the most vocal when it comes to hosting the World Cup. They have even secured Gaelic sports stadiums to increase their potential bid. However, with all due respect to Ireland and their fans, awarding the World Cup to Ireland would be a mistake. It’s absolutely true that Ireland have a great rugby tradition. They have some of the best clubs in terms of support, a solid national team, and have produced some of the game’s best icons. But awarding a World Cup to another traditional power will continue to keep rugby from reaching new heights.

In some ways it is unfair to compare the Rugby World Cup to the FIFA World Cup. The sports are simply on two different levels right now. Still, it’s important to make the comparison as a point of reference. One of the things that has helped the FIFA World Cup grow into an even bigger event in the last twenty years was the decision to award the World Cup to the United States and Japan/South Korea. In both places the World Cup helped accelerate the growth of the game, especially among a younger generation. All you have to do is look at the growth in poplaraity of not only soccer in general in the United States but also the attached fans now have to foreign clubs.

If the Rugby World Cup were awarded to the United States there is no guarantee that the same thing would happen for rugby, but at least the effort would be made. The IRB is always talking about growing rugby in new markets. Placing the World Cup in a traditional market is not going to get that done. In places like Russia, Canada, and the United States it will be just another fringe event that people sort of tune into once every four years. If the IRB wants to change that they need to bring the tournament directly to them.

Overall, it’s not so much that Ireland wouldn’t host a fantastic World Cup, they obviously would, it’s that rugby has now reached a point where the status quo is no longer going to cut it. Rugby has not accelerated at the pace it needs to in developing markets over the last 10 years. That is the IRB’s long-term problem and without addressing it soon they face the prospect of never being able to overcome the hurdle.

Curtis Reed is the founder and editor of This Is American Rugby. He can be found on Twitter @ThisIsAmerRugby, on Facebook, and at www.thisisamericanrugby.com

  • Peter Kavanagh

    I am an Irish rugby fan living in Ireland. From a patriotic and economic standpoint I would love to see Ireland host RWC 2023. Despite that, for all the reasons well presented in Curtis Reed’s article, I would have to acknowledge that the sport of rugby may be better served by holding it elsewhere. Both Italy and Argentine offer plenty of attractive venues and either would represent a strategic forward-thinking hosting option.

  • Ciaran Burke

    Ireland is one of the tier one nations that has never hosted any event as big as this, we had one rwc game in Ireland. We have the facilities, and have never had the privilege of hosting on our own like other countries.

    It would be great economically for our people creating jobs, and an economic boost for the country which has fallen on hard times. Now the problem with awarding it to say the US would be the constant continental eg New york to Texas to Seattle. It would take 4/5 hours car ride coast to coast in Ireland with an option of flying. It is up to the American schools ,and the US rugby union to grow the game in the US. Maybe they could do it by tempting major international teams to compete in the US in some kind of knock out tournament during the June internationals or November international windows. or maybe play a knock out rounds in June finals in November with the winning team getting 1 million dollars or money to charity.

    That will probably grow the game and get publicity for US and world rugby. The likes of Ireland vs New Zealand, Wales/France vs Australia/South Africa . But fact is Ireland needs to host the 2023 RWC we have been skipped over too many times.

  • john sylvanus

    the irb keeps on layin emphasis on revenue but good argument though bearing in mind that sometimes u just have to forfeit some goodies to attain in life.

  • Doug Lyons

    Can’t see the IRB going outside the traditional countries two WC’s in a row. Given that the tournament will be in England in 2015 and japan in 2019 I suspect that a SH country will get the nod in 2023. Then 2027 a NH country (Ireland?) and perhaps in 2031 the US or another non traditional country. The IRB will never be accused of forward thinking or risk taking … so that is what I see ..

  • Ed

    Do you not think that the IRB are doing exactly what FIFA are doing by starting to alternate between top Nations and rapidly developing nations every other tournament? FIFA have been going from a Top Nation to a developing Nation for a long time (Brazil (top), S.A. (dev), GER (top), SK/Jap (dev), FRA (top), USA (dev)..) and have reaped the benefits of it by looking after both, presume the IRB are following suit.
    No offense, but i’d prefer to see it going to either CAN or South American country ahead of the US, of course, after Ireland has hosted it in 2023.
    USA’94 was a disaster if wanted to catch more than a match or two, especially on the west coast where I was at the time, with most of the media just slagging it off. Think the RWC would get even less publicity and be lost in the States, especially if fractured across the country.
    An Irish WC would be the absolute opposite to a US World Cup, All matches within 4 hour drive, decent knowledgeable crowds & general public, decent refreshments, with the whole country behind it & not forgetting the proximity of other major Nations.

  • Doug Lyons

    I’m an American with little interest in soccer but there is no question that WC 94 made the game relevant in this country. The game was on the rise and the WC came along at just the right time to take advantage of the growth in interest in the game. Rugby in the States is not quite at that point but is growing. It is now a common sport in high schools so it is not a mysterious sport any longer. By 2023 the game will be in a similar position as soccer was in 1994. But there is NO way that after Japan 2019 that the WC will go to another outside country. It will likely be a SH country given that England has the tournament in 2015.

  • David Killeen

    I happen to read your article and as an ardent Rugby fan I
    am quite keen to see the development of the game continue to grow 6globally.
    There are two main problems the game is facing which are both related to the
    development of the sport. The first being there is only a small number (if you
    want to compare that to soccer) of top tier professional sides in the World.
    Realistically 14 to 16 at best if you look at the IRB rankings. The second is
    how the domestic game is been development which feeds into the in the growth of
    national teams of each country.

    At this moment I think the sport is at a crucial juncture were
    whatever the decision is made will have long-term benefits or ramifications for
    the game going forward.

    Firstly, it is correct in saying to stop comparing the sport
    directly to soccer for there is an ocean sized difference between the two
    sports. What can be compared though is to avoid the negative aspects or path
    soccer has taken couple with the morally bankrupt culture that exists with in
    FIFA.

    Getting back to the point of where the 2023 & 2027 Rugby
    World Cups are rewarded it involves the delicate touch of balancing the revenue
    obtained paired with spreading the development of the sport. I am Irish and I
    would be delighted to see the Rugby World Cup hosted in my own country. But I
    do accept the fact for the interests of the games development is much more
    important for the IRB to focus on. Their remit is to develop and expand the
    sport globally and there is certain potential in the countries of Italy,
    Russia, Canada, Spain/Portugal and one that I think would reap a major benefit
    would be Argentina. But specifically Argentina co hosting the competition with
    Uruguay where spreading the development of the game to the continent of South
    America. For rugby to make sizable gains in it’s development globally the
    opinion of awarding Italy for 2023 and Argentina / Uruguay for 2027 makes sense.
    This is taking into consideration both the development of the game and
    maintaining a strong revenue stream for the IRB. One thing you have to remember
    though about the augment for IRB concerns of getting a good return on
    investment is this. When a nation is awarded to host rugby’s primer competition
    it has to agree to foot the bill for the privilege being hosts to the IRB. The
    government of that host nation pays the sum of up to €100 million to insure or
    ring fence the IRB’s revenue stream for the next four years. Whatever money
    raised thereafter it is a bounce to both the host nation and the IRB. Therefore
    the IRB are guaranteed income for them as an organization but also to invest in
    the development of game of Rugby.

    In fairness to the IRB though, the organization deserves
    credit in the expansion of the sport particularly in Asia and the small islands
    in the Pacific region. Rugby has blossomed here with Japan and the likes of
    Samoa, Fiji and Tonga by the IRB’s establishment of the Asian 5 nations and
    Pacific Nations Cup. Some critics have criticized this as a waste of money in
    such a small areas but I disagree entirely. IRB has protected the development
    of the game in these regions that play exciting fast style of rugby in an era
    where the game has become rather more defensive. This investment has paid dividends for Oceanic nation have caused several upsets in beating top Tier nations to qualify to the knockout stages of the World Cup. The best example being Fiji
    defeating Wales in 2007 being probably one of the most memorable games of the
    completion to advance into the knock out stages. Also that year Tonga came within
    five points in beating South Africa (who would go on to be Champions) were in
    the last minute of the game a cruel bounce of the ball denied Tonga potentially
    winning the game.

    In respect to the IRB they has stood firm with support of
    developing nations. Before the 2007 RWC it was considered that the next
    completion afterward in New Zealand should reduced the number teams taking
    part. This was the opinion of top tier nations who felt that the pool stages
    were lacking competitive intensity with the weaker nation competing against
    them. But what happen in the World Cup in France was considered the rise of the
    small nations who scored some of the most sensational trys of the competition.
    Don’t take my word for it just type into Youtube ‘Best Trys of RWC 2007’ with
    the notable exceptions of Japan against Wales and USA’s Takudzwa Ngwenya out
    pacing Brian Habana to complete his score.

    If though rugby is to progress the IRB still have to use
    World Cup as it flagship enterprise to push the development of the sport. Up to
    now the only top tier nations have hosted the World Cup since 1987 to 2011. But
    you’ve got to remember in that period of the tournament being established it
    was in its infancy and therefore successive World Cups had to build upon to
    create what it is today. In 2015 England will host the World Cup with Japan
    following in 2019 thus the IRB needs to continue in this vain of how it decides
    where the completion is to be held. Awarding the competition in tandem where
    you have an established nation followed by a developing nation or country where
    rugby could gain significant interest and growth. There by awarding Italy in
    2023 would be a positive step for a rugby nation that has established itself by
    participating in the 6 nations for the last 15 years. In saying that the World
    Cup being hosted in Italy would enhance the development and expansion of the
    game particularly in Italy’s domestic arena. The domestic game in Italy would
    not be on a par with its other contemporizes in the 6 Nations Championship but
    certainly would benefit if the World Cup was to be hosted there. It should be
    mentioned that for an international team to develop it need a strong domestic
    league to nurture the talent from grass roots level. Growing the interest of
    the country’s fan base in particular with children would insure the progression
    and development of the sport across a broad spectrum in Italian Rugby.

    Italy already has the facilities needed to host the
    tournament including more than adequate sized stadiums and excellent transport
    links for visiting fans to travel to the country. The country is well capable
    in hosting a competition of this size with previously events such as Italia 90
    and winter and summer Olympics. A major bonus of the country’s location benefits
    both fans traveling and television broadcasting schedules to other high profile
    rugby nation with Europe in particular. There is a good possibility that the
    stadiums will be filled for the majority of the games, insuring a high return
    on ticket receipts and other revenues for both Italy and the IRB.

    So in conclusion hosting the 2023 World Cup in Italy would
    both be seen as positive step. Both ensuring the financial interest of the IRB
    and its activities but also make gains in development of the sport. World Cup
    in Italy would be just as capable making the same returns in revenue if not
    more as previous World Cups in France or England and without doubt surpass New
    Zealand in 2011.

    With the broad benefits of Italy being hosts in 2023 the IRB
    should take the progressive step by awarding Argentina with Uruguay to be hosts
    in 2027. I am aware that Argentina Rugby Union has made their intention to be
    contenders to be hosts but there are many benefits to include Uruguay in its
    bid. I have read extensively Argentines argument that awarding them the chance
    to hosting the World Cup would bring the event to the Americas for the first
    time. Former Argentinean international Agustín Pichot has lead with this point
    and reiterated the strides that the national team has made over the years.
    Their argument does make sense, coming 3rd in 2007 and now competing
    in the now Rugby Championship with New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
    Although to include Uruguay Rugby Union as well would strengthen the argument
    in bring the World Cup to the whole of South America for the first time. Uruguay
    would be considered the second team after Argentina of ranked teams in South
    America. The country has featured twice in 1999 and 2003 World Cups and has
    achieved success in accomplishing victories in the pool stages in both years.
    That is something other similarly ranked rugby nations have not achieved in
    playing in this competition. In recent years they have been unfortunate to
    qualify narrowly missing out in 2007 and 2011 but still in serious contention
    currently for qualifying for England 2015.

    Granted, given comparative success and size of both nations
    Argentina would be the senior partner in sharing the majority of games but
    Uruguay should have above the token amount of games. It also shores up the
    concerns of the IRB where Uruguay would be able to relieve some of the burden
    of the cost of hosting the games with Argentina. There is adequate
    infrastructure between both nations to host the games. Both capitals of Buenos
    Aires and Montevideo where rugby is most popular are relative short distance to
    travel from one another and have several stadia to accommodate matches.

    Adding Uruguay would broaden the scope in trying to reach
    out to the rest of the continent of South America. It would elevate the sport in
    other countries including Chile and Brazil, Paraguay and others. The South
    American equivalent to the 6 Nations, SARC, profile would certainly be raised
    if an Argentina / Uruguay bid was considered and presented to the IRB.

    It would greatly aid CONSUR, the governing body for rugby in
    South America; to promote both it’s profile and the international and domestic
    game of rugby in South America.

    Even though football is the dominant sport in the continent
    there is an appetite that can be nurtured if with the Rugby World Cup came to
    this part of the world. For instance I am writing this article from Medellin,
    Colombia where I have been living for the last four months. Colombia’s national
    team is ranked sixtieth in the IRB world ranking which is relatively low in the
    pecking order. But even still in this country where football is the most
    dominant sport I have see several all weather rugby pitches in the city of
    Medellin during my time here. If facilities like this exist in such low ranked
    third tier rugby nation like Colombia perhaps it is worth considers what the
    rest of South American countries have to offer.

    In conclusion the IRB has an opportunity to spread the
    interest and development of rugby to new regions outside the boundaries of
    European and Southern Hemisphere nations. The only two comparisons I will make
    between rugby and football are this. Firstly when FIFA awarded the World Cup to
    the U.S. in 1994, some consider that it was a failure but in the last 20 year
    period football in the U.S. grown considerably. It has grown in the right areas
    too with in particular America’s domestic league. Many of the large sports
    networks now such as ESPN and FOX in the last couple of years have filled their
    TV schedules with increasing coverage toward both the domestic league and the English Premiership. This can be attributed to the sustained growth since the 1994
    World Cup as if planting the seed for things to come. The recent World Cup in
    2014 garnered a huge following with record-breaking TV ratings in the country.
    This can be said is a testament to how far the sport has come in the U.S. which
    IRB should note that example. The second point is, it took FIFA 64 years and 14
    tournaments to award the hosting of the World Cup outside the traditional areas
    of Europe and South America. The IRB has achieved this in half the time with
    awarding Japan the right to host the 9th edition of the tournament
    in 2019. If they can continue to follow in the same vain with awarding
    Argentina with Uruguay they would be on parity with FIFA in bring the Rugby
    World Cup to six continents. Again, with the IRB achieving this in half the
    time the FIFA were able to. Therefore it is imperative for the development of
    the sport that IRB look at this opinion for it would have benefits across the
    board in terms of the development of the game. The litmus test can only be judged
    20 or 30 years down the road where success would be measure in the amount of
    professional top tier nation are present then.

    One point though regarding Ireland being awarded the chance
    to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 is this. The benefits of the competition
    would greatly benefit the country as a whole. Rugby in Ireland has been one of
    the entities that has helped Ireland moved from its troubled past in North and
    our history with Britain. It has helped and achieved in enhancing and
    humanizing our relationship with Britain as well as the people of North of
    Ireland. The sport has done it’s part for the whole island of Ireland to moving
    away from the turmoil of its troubled past. The World Cup would continue on
    this moment where Thirty, Forty years ago it would have been unthinkable to
    host event like the Rugby World Cup in the whole of Ireland. The eyes of the
    World can see that hosting the World Cup in a region that has experience much
    trauma has moved on and is looking forward to brighter future with one another.