12:38pm, 12 May 2022
No matter what way you turned on Thursday at the sleek Dublin Convention Centre looking out over the low tide River Liffey, you were met by celebratory smiles and fist bumps. World Rugby were in town and were doling out World Cup hosting rights to beat the band amid a giddy atmosphere of hoopla and bonhomie that can’t have been lost on the Irish.
Here was the capital city of Ireland playing the amenable host on a seminal day for rugby that saw the delegations from England, Australia and the USA all crowned winners when the successful bids for five World Cup were confirmed at 11.30am local time, three and a half hours before the cast of winners were rolled out for a live media event where each contingent took it in turn to bask in their moment of glory.
It was an exercise stage-managed to the nth degree, an outcome that was essentially predictable months in advance with even the list of attendees for the ceremonial shindig openly confirmed on Monday. This schmaltzy show of unity, though, was in stark contrast to the infamous blood on the floor morning staged four and a half years ago by World Rugby in a London hotel.
In this correspondent’s 23 years of experience as a beat reporter on the global rugby circuit, there was never as brutal a moment like it, the respective delegations from Ireland and South Africa getting fed to the lions at a jam-packed, claustrophobic lower ground floor room where the cloak and dagger horse-trading of votes left France victorious and Bernie Laporte the last man standing in Kensington with a mischievous nod and wink.
Stung by the heavily criticised opaque process, it was November 2020 when World Rugby insisted that its latest bidding process – which would run from February 2021 through to May 2022 – would be fully transparent. In no way would they dare to repeat the secret three-way battle that left South Africa perplexed that its bid, which was recommended by World Rugby as the best following a lengthy pre-vote evaluation process, was gazumped on vote day.
The fuming Irish, meanwhile, vowed never to bid again after they realised their effort was a complete waste of time and energy. “My carbon footprint is very poor,” admitted Irish bid director Kevin Potts at the time as he had met every voting union in person in destinations as diverse as Buenos Aires, Miami, Outer Mongolia and Auckland. “I did 39 flights in 14 weeks – we wanted to make sure they heard from Ireland and what makes our bid special.”
There were no recriminations this time around, Australia and USA respectively getting the 2027 and 2031 men’s World Cups while England, Australia and the USA were also chosen without any fuss to respectively stage the 2025, 2029 and 2033 women’s World Cups.
The voting outcomes were unanimous, 44-0 in all instances with not a hint of rancour, just satisfaction that the job was so very well done this time around. No wonder World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont looked like the cat that got the cream when he kick-off the post-announcement proceedings in the second floor Wicklow Hall which was far from capacity as the majority of the media were tuning in online rather than in person.
“Today is an historic day for our sport, confirmation of our Rugby World Cup host locations for the next decade,” chirped Beaumont. “It’s a mandate for the future of the sport which brings unprecedented certainty, unparalleled opportunity and great excitement as we look to develop the sport like never before.
“We want to make rugby as attractive and accessible as possible for everyone, a truly global sport for all and today we are taking a massive step forward towards realising that ambition.
“The pandemic did make us think in new ways and work in the spirit of collaboration with all those involved in the sport. It also afforded us a rare luxury, time to think how we might reimagine and advance the sport and today’s announcements are the most significant results so far of that new thinking.”
Delivering a global game for all was very much the mantra of what followed, a series of media briefings where each of the vested interests got to say their piece and express their particular brand of optimism.
Ex-World Cup winner Phil Kearns perhaps summed it best. “This is amazing for Australian rugby, it’s exciting,” he exclaimed, revelling in his role as executive director of Rugby Australia’s successful bid. “We have got a huge opportunity. There has been some negativity around our game in Australia for a while but that stops right here. This is the day that stops and it’s all upwards for Australia.”
All upwards, too, for World Rugby. What happened in London in November 2017 is now very much consigned to history in this new-found and welcome spirit of collaboration.
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