London: France will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup but South Africa and Ireland have expressed their anger after the World Rugby Council surprisingly voted against the board’s recommendation.
This decision was rugby politics at its most intricate as France came from nowhere to be given what will be its second Rugby World Cup in the space of 16 years after hosting the 2007 tournament.
South Africa were favourites to win the ballot after being recommended by World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont and his board late last month.
There was unmistakable disappointment on the faces of South African Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux and president Mark Alexander after France were named hosts for rugby’s centrepiece event in six years’ time.
France received 18 votes in the first round, edging out Ireland (8) and South Africa (13).
In the second round, France received 24 votes to South Africa’s 15.
World Rugby defended its handling of the “transparent and open” evaluation report it made public and also stood strong on criticism that it should have made votes cast by different unions public knowledge.
“We’ve been fortunate to have three great bids,” Beaumont said. “Certainly delighted for France. We’ve had three great bids and two of the countries will be extremely disappointed.”
The evaluation report had given South Africa an overall score of 78.97 per cent, ahead of France (75.88) and Ireland (72.25).
Alexander said he was “99 per cent” sure South Africa were going to be named World Cup hosts after the initial report was handed down and, speaking in London on Wednesday, he conveyed that frustration.
“This is the first time ever World Rugby has made a recommendation and they voted against it and that raises a lot of questions for them,” Alexander said.
“There were a set of rules. We abided by those rules up until today. The set of rules were broken during that process, which we are upset about.
“We ran a vigorous, transparent process for 15 months and the last two weeks everything became opaque.
“Sometimes you get to the 79th minute and you lose the game. We would like to apologise to the people and government of South Africa for raising their hopes.”
Roux added: “It would have been great for our country, great for our sport. When the FIFA World Cup was held there in 2010, we had a more than 20 per cent uptake in players. We would have had the same thing here.
“Maybe the only silver lining is that the last time the World Cup was held in France, we won it. Maybe we’ll win it again in 2023.”
At the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, Beaumont revealed France had been given the green light after its union had, only days ago, complained about the new process World Rugby had undertaken.
President of the French Rugby Federation, Bernard Laporte, criticised the original report, saying it was “laughable” and contained a “certain amount of incompetence”.
On Wednesday, he sported a big grin from ear to ear and said the event would be a huge boost to France’s economy.
“We did dispute some aspects but I’m not saying that’s why we won,” said Laporte, a former coach of France.
“We’ve won but it’s really grassroots rugby that has won. It’s worth a billion euros for [French] shopkeepers; 17,000 jobs will be created and I’m very proud of that.”
There was also no hiding the disappointment of Ireland, which implied that France was given the World Cup because of its financial clout.
“World Rugby needs to decide what sort of tournament it wants,” said Philip Browne, chief executive of the Irish Union.
“Money shouldn’t be everything. We could run a tournament perfectly well and produce significant revenues for rugby.”
Ireland was most upset at the fact Wales and Scotland, two of its nearest unions geographically, did not support its bid.
“We feel very disappointed by not getting support from some of our nearest neighbours,” said Ireland’s bid chairman Dick Spring. “We didn’t get solidarity from our home unions.”