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Is the USA ready to host the Rugby World Cup?

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Roar Guru
4th April, 2019
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1059 Reads

France has been awarded hosting rights for the tenth Rugby World Cup in 2023, but who are the likely front-runners for the 11th and 12th editions?

Following three consecutive tournaments in the Northern Hemisphere, shouldn’t it be the Southern Hemisphere’s turn next, given the three most successful playing nations lie south of the equator?

So far both Australia and Argentina have declared their intention to bid for the 11th World Cup.

Australia has been involved in hosting twice before, and did so on its own in 2003.

Nonetheless, at this early stage Australia’s more stable financial conditions would appear to make it the favourite.

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper is known to have encouraged the US to bid, however, and the world’s largest economy would undoubtedly be an attractive proposition for the decision-makers.

Aside from the fact this would mean a fourth straight World Cup north of the equator, it really needs to be questioned whether the US will be ready to host the event so soon.

According to World Rugby statistics, America has more registered players than Japan, Argentina or any of the Celtic nations. But when we view it on a per capita basis, the comparison is closer to Senegal and Switzerland.

Moreover, rugby remains primarily an amateur sport stateside, notwithstanding the early promise being shown by Major League Rugby. It is neither mainstream nor played in the vast majority of schools.

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There is a real danger the event might fail to catch on there just eight years from now, and that this could do irreparable damage to the tournament’s image.

Let’s heed the lessons of Super Rugby and not get ahead of ourselves.

The 2030s or even 2040s would seem more realistic for a World Cup in America, and that’s not so far away.

USA Rugby

The USA is making big strides in the Sevens arena, and could soon be ready to host a Rugby World Cup. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images for HSBC)

South Africa has indicated it will not be in the running for 2027, having suffered a string of failed bids since doing such an outstanding job in 1995.

It was recommended to host the 2023 installment by World Rugby itself, but appeared to lose out after France shored up the regional votes – including Africa’s!

It is a shame the world’s second largest and most successful rugby-playing nation has been neglected like this, given it has arguably the best array of rugby-purpose stadia on the planet.

Of course, ongoing strife between the government and ruling body won’t have helped its cause.

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Although Wikipedia’s 2027 Rugby World Cup page states the tournament will involve 24 teams, to this writer’s knowledge, no official announcement has been made to that effect.

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It also lists Ireland as a potential bidder. However, successive World Cups in the northwest corner of Europe is extremely unlikely, and surely the age of ‘small nation’ tournaments is over.

Which brings us to the 12th edition. Assuming the 2027 event does return to the Southern Hemisphere, it might just be time to look at America as a potential host in 2031, depending on how much progress has been made with professional rugby.

Certainly it would be nice to stage it somewhere other than northwest Europe for a change.

France will be hosting it for the second time in 2023, and has twice been a co-host. Wales, England and Scotland have also been involved on multiple occasions.

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If the World Cup does return to Europe in 2031, let’s hope there will be a new host nation, with Italy the most realistic candidate.

The FIR had shown some initial interest in staging the tenth edition, though this was later withdrawn.

Of course, rugby is not exactly mainstream in Italy either, and should the tournament clash with Serie A soccer there is no doubt who would come off second best.

Meanwhile, European rugby officials might do well to keep an eye on next year’s UEFA European Championship, set to be staged across the continent at 12 venues as far afield as the UK and Azerbaijan.

Perhaps a Rugby World Cup could be run along similar lines in the future.

This would bring second-tier nations Georgia and Romania into the reckoning as co-hosts, perhaps with their own groups in the event of a 24-team format.

Bucharest once held the world record attendance for an international rugby match, with 95,000 turning out for the Oaks’ clash with France in 1957.

Georgia rugby player Mirian Modebadze

Georgia draws big crowds in the European International Championship. (Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images)

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More recently, Georgia has drawn crowds of up to 65,000 for its regular clashes with Russia.

Italy, France, Britain and Ireland could host the remaining groups, while round-of-16 fixtures and quarter-finals could be staged in cities like Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels and Sochi.

But let the semi-finals return to Georgia and Romania, and the final to Italy, if at all possible.

As for concerns about a European-wide tournament being spread across an entire continent, that has already happened once – in 2003 – and proved a resounding success.