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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019

Ireland plans to engage its huge diaspora as part of 2023 World Cup bid

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne helped to host a World Rugby technical review group in recent days.

IN THE END, after all the emotive promotional videos and technical review groups and big promises, the hosting rights for the 2023 Rugby World Cup will come down to a straight majority vote.

There are a total of 37 votes as things stand – more of which below – so Ireland need 19 of them to ensure they see off the competition of France and South Africa, both of whom also believe their bids are winning ones.

Enda Kenny and Brett Gosper Enda Kenny with World Rugby CEO in Dublin yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The French even tried to throw a spanner in the works for Ireland recently, with the FFR’s general secretary complaining about how he and his colleagues had been treated at the Aviva Stadium when les Bleus visited Dublin during the Six Nations.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been accused of being inhospitable before,” said IRFU chief executive Philip Browne with a laugh yesterday, speaking after spending two days going through Ireland’s 2023 bid with World Rugby’s visiting technical review group.

“I mean, at the end of the day, the French took a view. There was an exchange of correspondence and as far as I’m concerned, a line is drawn under it.”

So, Ireland won’t be striking back. Instead, they’re focusing on the finalising the detail around their bid, with the official file – “a fairly serious set of documentation” – to be submitted to World Rugby on 1 June.

Brown believes that a cross-border Irish World Cup would attract 445,000 fans to the island, which would be the most ever for a World Cup, and estimates that it would be worth €800 million to the economies of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The host nation of the 2023 World Cup will be announced in November of this year, so the Irish working group have been very busy lobbying the voters.

“That’s obviously an important element of all this,” said Browne.

The rest of the Six Nations unions – England, Italy, Scotland and Wales – all get three votes, as do New Zealand and Australia. Argentina still only get two.

Regional associations like Oceania, Asia and South America get two votes, while a small group of unions – including USA, Canada and Japan – get a single vote each.

Philip Browne Browne is the IRFU chief executive. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Now, there is some prospect of Japan and Argentina getting an additional vote each, raising the total number to 39, but Browne says that change has to be passed at World Rugby Council in May.

“I wouldn’t hazard a guess,” said Browne when asked how many votes Ireland can count on. “The reality is that we go around, we talk to people and explain what we’re doing, we answer all these questions that you’re asking us.

“We’re giving them the answers and, at the end of the day, they will make their own judgement. We don’t have committed votes and one doesn’t ask at this stage for commitments. It’s a long way to go, the race isn’t over until November.”

The questions being asked of Ireland’s bid centre around aspects such as stadia, transport infrastructure, commercial viability, and cold, hard cash.

Ireland currently have 12 stadia in their bid: Croke Park, Aviva Stadium, Kinsgpan Stadium, Thomond Park, Pearse Stadium, Casement Park, the RDS, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, McHale Park, Fitzgerald Stadium, Nowlan Park and Celtic Park in Derry.

In the end, that will be whittled down to “eight or 10,” according to Browne, with World Rugby having the final say. If Ireland’s bid is successful, there is work to be done on all of the stadia involved.

“There’s Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which is going to be open this year, there’s another new build hopefully in the North in Casement Park,” said Browne.

“But regardless of whether they are new or not, each stadium – including Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium – will need some overlay in order to bring them up to the standard required.

“That might be for media, because the media requirements for a World Cup are significantly greater than would be required for a Six Nations championship.

General view of the match as the sun goes down Croke Park would host the semi-finals and final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“For instance, floodlighting in some stadia may need to be upgraded, we may need to put big screens in some stadia, we may need to do pitch upgrades in some of the stadia.”

As for transport and accommodation infrastructure, Browne insists that Ireland is in good shape.

“We had the chief executives of the National Transport Authority and Translink in today, and they gave an excellent presentation,” said the IRFU chief, “not only of what’s in place today, but what’s coming on stream over the next few years.

“In terms of tourism infrastructure, we had an interesting presentation from Tourism Ireland, which outlined exactly what the situation is. Ireland is in the top 15% of countries worldwide for tourism infrastructure.

“We’d 10.5 million visitors in Ireland in 2016, we’ve 11.5 million bed nights in Ireland annually, we’ve 2.5 million bed night available across the tournament. There’s no problem with accommodation.

“In terms of infrastructure, it’s two hours by road to anywhere from Dublin, in terms of Cork, Limerick, Belfast, every other destination we’re picking is on the road or rail network.”

So, what’s the cost?

“I wouldn’t really like to say at this point in time, but it’s covered within the tournament budget,” said Browne. “In other words, it’s covered in the ticket revenues.”

There is also the small matter of a €127 million tournament fee for the right to host the World Cup, which goes to Rugby World Cup Limited, an offshoot of World Rugby.

And World Rugby will, of course, be utterly focused on ensuring they maximise the value of the TV rights to the tournament. Browne is comfortable in Ireland’s viability there too.

“The fact of the matter is, we are in the largest rugby market in the world, in Europe. We are in the right time zone in terms of television, we have global reach into the US, so we are actually very well placed to deliver a maximum return to World Rugby.”

It’s expensive business, then, but Ireland and the IRFU are ploughing full steam ahead with some confidence that they are on the right track.

Ireland Rugby 2023 Sites Visit The World Rugby technical review group in the Aviva Stadium yesterday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

If all the other bits fail to impress, they also have the weapon of the Irish abroad to pull out.

World Rugby’s technical review group was yesterday treated to a presentation from Jonathan Cannon, the man behind The Gathering.

“We’re explaining to those that don’t know Ireland and don’t know the reach that we have in this country, which is a reach well outside of Ireland, one of the major components of our bid is going to be to activate our diaspora outside of Ireland,” said Browne.

“That presentation actually put structure and shape and some concrete foundations as to how we would actually try and activate the diaspora, particularly North America, which is a key market for World Rugby.

“It’s something that no other union in the world can actually do. We have a diaspora of 35 t0 70 million people who live in the US and another four and a half million in Canada, who, as we know, activate around all things Irish.

“We already have some significant plans to not only bring them to Ireland, but to also bring the World Cup out of Ireland to them. So, there are lots of things that we can do which are quite innovative.”

We await the November judgement.

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Murray Kinsella

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