Monday, May 13, 2013

Australian Rugby Union CEO´s comments underline the need for change in the IRB

Australia Rugby Union CEO
 Bill Pulver
Australian Rugby chief executive Bill Pulver believes that Rugby World Cup 2023 will be held in the Southern Hemipshere. In an interview with Australian journalist Greg Gowden, Pulver talked in depth about the financial problems facing the Australian Rugby Union and, amongst other things, indicated that he believes South Africa will host Rugby World Cup 2023. He also talked about the Rugby World Cup coming to South America but he put forth the year 2031 as the potential time. 

Pulver´s comments raise questions over the conservative decisions not only made by the IRB but by the sports leading governing bodies. Central to the problem of a Rugby World Cup returning to South Africa is the fact that the country has been attempting to secure hosting rights but has been unable to do so. South Africa failed to secure Rugby World Cup 2011 after it lost in the first round with Japan being the second choice behind New Zealand. For 2015 England was shortlisted as the best option and subsequently was confirmed as the host nation with Japan also being confirmed to host in 2019. South Africa and Italy had both attempted to host but had been unsuccessful. 

2023, as Pulver says, will likely be time for a return to the Southern Hemisphere. So far Argentina and South Africa have emerged as both being interested in hosting. There are other possibilities but they are not likely to  go ahead - a return to either Australia or New Zealand. South Africa appears to be Pulver´s suggested option due to it having economic security. While the country no doubt has a proud and extensive rugby history it is far from being a safe option. The 2009 British and Irish Lions Tour was a case in point as the majority of matches were not only not full houses but many were, in fact, poorly attended. Furthermore, the country itself cannot be said to have an outstanding reputation in terms of safety for visitors and the general transportation system. 

Why then is South Africa again to be considered as hosting the Rugby World Cup? The simple answer is that the ability of hosting a Rugby World Cup as considered, by many people, comes down to the old boys club. The same problem that saw New Zealand selected ahead of Japan, to the outrage of many, continues to exist to this day. The members of the IRB Council continue to significantly favor the same eight nations which participate in the former Five Nations and Tri Nations championships. Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales each have two votes on the IRB Council while Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan all only have one. It gets worse though as the USA has no vote nor do previous Rugby World Cup Quarter Finalists Fiji and Samoa and neither do any Rugby World Cup regulars Georgia, Romania and Tonga. Instead there is one vote per IRB region which means the founding nations, in effect, have veto as combined they have a clear majority. 

Needless to say the decision to see New Zealand host of Japan did not come down to what the majority wanted. Instead only the first Tier nations with two votes each needed convincing. Such a system is not democratic but the IRB believes that democracy could ruin rugby. Or in the words of another Australian, IRB chief executive Brett Gosper  "Given the economics of the IRB unions, I don't think there is any desire to move to a 'one federation, one vote' system. You can't, for instance, have Lithuania having the same clout at New Zealand or England - that's just not going to happen." 

The translation is that the governing body of global rugby, the IRB, agrees with ancient Greek philosopher Plato. According to the often sourced classical political scientist, the ideal government is one run by the Philosopher King because it is he who can govern in a just manner without any hidden agenda. Rule by the masses, in contrast, means rule by self-interest and opinion. International rugby is run in a manner which implies that certain unions are more qualified to make decisions than others. The problem with this is that they have a decorated history of not voting in the interests of the greater good. Instead many decisions have seen a select few advantaged. A case in point is New Zealand winning the hosting rights to Rugby World Cup 2011 and another is Wales again hosting matches in Rugby World Cup 2015. In both cases first time hosts with fewer votes - Japan and Italy were out voted. Another case in point would be France or South Africa winning the rights to Rugby World Cup 2023 ahead of Argentina. 


  1. Paul, idf knew Japanese rugby as well as I do, you'd know there were very good reasons NOT to go to Japan in 2011. Infact there are a number of worrying areas that japan must overcome to have a succesful RWC in 2019 let alone hosting in 2011. Poor, and worse, declining, crowds. Almost total lack of free to air TV coverage with the JRFU preferring to get a payout from JSports, which has a much smaller audience reach than the national free to air networks. Extremely poor marketing nous and interaction with its junior membership (most junior and senior HS players struggle to even know a couple of their own country's rugby team players but know all the pro baseball & soccer players! And JRFU holding it's national senior HS XVs invitation tournament on the same days as the Tokyo 7s!).

    If you had spent any time living in Japan and following Japanese rugby you would have serious concerns over the 2019 tournament. I am a fan of the Japanese team from way back but in light of the incredibly amateurish skills of the JRFU, I would be more confident if Italy were hosting in 2019. At least Italy has proved it can now attract good crowds and hold international rugby events. I actually think it was very unfortunate that Argentina didn't bid for 2019. I think it would've had an excellent chance of being picked over the top of Japan.

    While I agree about 2023 and South Africa (and in particular the empty stadiums for the Lions 2009 tour), the criticism of the 2011 event shows a serious lack of knowledge on your part of the respective hosts.

    BTW while you are promoting an Argentine 2023RWC, I have yet to hear anything from the UAR that says they're even going to bid for 2023. I think it's high time you started actually asking the UAR what they're doing. Because other countries are already publicly putting their name out there but the UAR? Nothing. South Africa has been very supportive on Argentine rugby (much more so than NZ & Aust) but you can't blame them for putting their hat in the ring especially if the UAR are not going to commit to even bidding let alone hosting.

    1. No doubt Japan has limitations - everyone does. There are no perfect hosts and never will be. But everyone deserves to have a chance and the bidding process is supposed to be about showing what one can offer. Japan may never win a Rugby World Cup while Brazil will never top the Olympic Medals count. Both, however, are new options that merit an opportunity to host.

      As well attended as France 2007 was there were still massive issues in selling tickets for matches in Cardiff and Edinburgh and two of Montpellier´s matches also had close to 10,000 unsold tickets. 30,000 unsld tickets for Ireland v France in Melbourne in 2003 in addition to plenty of other matches. Over 10,000 unsold for Argentina v Scotland in 2011 not to mention loads of tier 2 v tier 2 or tier 3 matches had large number of unsold tickets.

      Then there are other issues that can make or break an RWC such as pools ad match scheduling which for 2003 was detrimental to the chances of Argentina, Italy and Tonga.

      Argentina is working on a bid and Pichot made it public during RWC 2011 that the UAR wants to host in 2023. See below:

      Thanks for the encouragement and just to let you know - the UAR knows about my book. There is a long time to go still. Probably 2 years before bidding heats up.

  2. Yes,everyone has limitations (even NZ wasn't perfect) but Japan has a number of limitations and their union's record in showing improvement in those areas is poor, and that's of real concern. As I said, both Italy and Argentina would've have been better bets to host in 2019 if the RWC was to go to a new host.

    Were you even at the Argentina v Scotland game in 2011?? I was, and the weather that night was absolutely atrocious! I haven't been so soaked for a long time watching a rugby game. As can happen in Wellington, the rain was coming in sideways! As overjoyed as I was for the Pumas win, my main thought after the game was to get back to my hostel room asap and get a hot shower! Yeah the crowd was a bit disappointing but I'm sure a large number of people who would've walked up (and there were large numbers of walk up sales for the pool games in NZ) were put off by the weather especially considering the ticket prices and preferred to take in the action on TV! There were a few games, or probably more correctly, venues, the biggest examples of which were Invercargill and Rotorua where the locals didn't support the event. But by and large most pool games either sold out or were heavily sold. I'm sorry but I absolutely contest the comment that "loads of tier 2 v tier2 or 3 games were badly patronised. Didn't you see Whangarei, Napier, Palmerston North, Nelson etc. I watched a number of games including at two of those venues and there were very good crowds eg Japan v Tonga @ Whangarei. Those games are always the hardest to sell and good luck to Argentina if they think they could do better! I suspect the opposite would be the case and come Japan 2019 there's a real possibility there'll be many more holes in the crowd for those games than there were in NZ.

    You love to quote tier one countries struggling fill stadiums but I noticed you seemed to miss out Japan's crowd figures. Strange that! You even neglected to mention how the JRFU had so much trouble selling tickets for the Australia v NZ game in 2009, despite only being at the current capacity 42,000 Olympic Stadium. Now in 2019, the Japanese are supposed to be selling out 80,000! Such was the union's struggle their former chairman publicly commented a couple of days before the game that he wished they could give free tickets to schoolkids! That has to be one of the most pathetic comments I have heard from a union chairman and the JRFU knows they can't do that in 2019 otherwise they will be permanently broke from the RWC. maybe you could start publishing those facts to provide a more balanced article :)

    1. If I were to source Japan´s crowds then I would strenghten the argument for Argentina hosting Rugby World Cup 2011 because the crowds are better in Argentina than they are in Japan. The 2009 fixture against the All Blacks was, nonetheless, much more successful than the 2010 clash in Hong Kong or the Crusaders v Sharks match in London.

      Tier Two countries, by definition, voting power and general reputation are not comparable to Tier One Nations. It is, of course, a myth but nevertheless continues to be refered to as such by countless rugby journalists. Last year I was horrofied to read in the Telegraph that Argentina in 2009 was regarded as a Tier Two Nation. Utterly inaccurate press clearly.

      Yes, I attended Argentina v Scotland. It was an occassion but the turn out was poor. Weather played its part as did prices but the main factor was the relocation after the Christchurch earthquake. It meant Wellington got too many matches and did not have time to promote the match as well as those already allocated to the city. The same weekend, after all, had another match - Australia v USA with a bigger crowd as 33,824 were in attendance.

      Argentina v Australia was full in Rosario last year. There were 41,149 for the match. Mendoza had problems in getting 37,679 as you point out.

      In terms of 2011. Whangarei did well. The same cannot be said of others. Here are some cases in point:

      Fiji v Namibia in Rotorua 10,100
      Samoa v Namibia in Rotorua 12,752

      Scotland v Georgia in Invercargill 10,267
      Argentina v Romania in Invercargill 12,605

      USA v Russia in New Plymouth 13,931

      Italy v Russia in Nelson 12,415

      Argentina v Scotland in Wellington 26,937

      NZ did much better than Australia in 2003 but France in 2007 remains the measuring stick - 97% of tickets sold. Full houses were common. Napier, for instance, did well but was nevertheless a small capacity venue.

      Canada v Japan in Napier 14,335
      Canada v Japan in Bordeaux 33,810

    2. Again paul, you only like to tell half the story and present half the statistics. You present Italy v Russia at nelson but don't present Italy v USA, or Australia v Russia. You present Scotland v Georgia (along with USA v Russia and Scotland v Argentina all played in abysmal weather conditions) but not Scotland v Romania (played in sunny conditions)etc. And anyway, I already conceded Rotorua and Invercargill were disappointing overall so no need to show the figures for thise stadiums. So Bordeaux had a bigger capacity than Napier, that's not what we were debating. It whether the stadiums in use attracted a full house or close to. Napier did that.

      Also weather did play a big part in Wellington. That USA v Australia game was played in much better conditions. Also there were many, many more Aussie fans in Wellington than Scottish or Argentinian so that definitely would've pushed up the crowd number for that game.

      And about a non-2011RWC, yes, I would've rather have had it in Argentina than Japan if not in NZ. You say all countries should get a chance. But the fact is this is rugby's showcase event, it's most important tournament. It is not a tournament to entrust to those without the acumen to make it succeed. The fact that the JRFU has failed badly to further promote and popularise domestic and test rugby, even after it was announced in 2009 as 2019RWC hosts, is again very worrying.

      We should be seeing a trend of popularisation and improvement and more media and public interest. But if anything, the trend is the other way, and if you look at Japanese fans at many games, many of the supporters are from the older generations. Yet the JRFU seems incapable of making the kind of reforms that are desperately needed to change the game around in the country.

      Sir John Kirwan made the very poignant remark that the JRFU is hoping the RWC will rescue rugby in Japan, whereas the RWC should actually be about showing the results of growth in the game in the years prior to it. He said that if the JRFU continue to act as if the former will be the case, without significant growth BEFORE the RWC, they will fail badly to get a lasting legacy from hosting the event. I think his remarks are spot on.

      I'm not against the RWC going to new locations. And I support Argentina and Italy because I am confident their unions have shown they have the nous and experience to host a major event. Not so the JRFU.

    3. I was simply showing that there were many matches involving only one or no Tier One sides that were certainly not full.

      re Nelson. I went to Italy v USA and there were evident spaces in the crowd. Ir was not full but better attended than Italy v Russia. I sourced just one match as it was sufficient to show that what I had said earlier was not made up.

      Re Napier. Indeed it did do well. It did not have enough seats. I sourced the attendance just to point out that France remains the measuring stick.

      Japa did pretty well with the IRB Junior World Championship in 2009. Argentina did better the following year for the record but Japan, nonetheless, got better crowds than the 2008 hosts Wales. This is highly important considering Wales´s power to secure RWC matches every eight years.

      I am with you in regards to the lack of progress in preparing Japa to host but I am confident that it will turn out just fine. There is still well over six years to go. You are, of course, correct to question what is going on and hopefully things begin to show progress.

  3. let it also be said that despite last year being it's inaugural year in the rugby championship, and all the excitement that entailed, both games against South Africa and Australia failed to sell out. there were some pretty largish gaps in the crowd at the stadiums and personally I found that pretty disappointing. I was expecting sell-outs for all three games. So I'd say Argentina has some work to do of its own in terms of crowds.

  4. Paul, what was also disappointing after the decision of the 2011RWC host had been made, was the way the JRFU cried sour grapes in the Japanese media. There were a number of disgraceful comments from senior JRFU members and it's probably a lucky thing those comments didn't gain a wider global audience otherwise it could have impacted negatively in the 2015/2019 campaign. I was so angry at some of the comments that I publicly rebuked current JRFU exec and Asia RFU IRB member Koji Tokumasu for complaining about the NZRFU while ignoring the many shortcomings of their administration! Basically I told him the JRFU should be improving it's administartion and bid before complaining about other unions and the IRB!

    You know, being a fan of Japanese rugby, I'd love to see them host but I need to have confidence their union is up to the job and I don't think they are (and ask many Japanese fans and they would actually agree with me). I would totally agree with you about Japan being hard done by for 2011 IF they had had a strong bid. The fact is they didn't. It had plenty of holes in it but the JRFU pinned all it's hopes on the "let's go somewhere new" idea hoping the holes in the details of it's bid would be ignored. They weren't. That should be salient reminder to Argentina on the need to get it's bid right above all else, including the cry to come to South America. Because a cry to come to South America will just be a hollow echo if the UAR doesn't do it's homework.

    The UAR would do well to talk to 2011RWC CEO Martin Snedden or even just read his post-RWC book. Snedden was exactly the right guy to do 2011RWC in NZ as he was meticulous in getting all the different areas locked into place and organised properly - We have already seen a difference in organisation with 2015 with the Old Trafford venue debacle. Snedden and his team already had NZ's venues locked in legally BEFORE going to Dublin. Obviously England2015 didn't!

    1. I also was not entirely happy with the response from Japan but I did understand it. At the time leading up to the decision I thought that should Japan miss out then South Africa would have been the way to go given its population, time zone, stadia and location in relation to Western Europe. But New Zealand´s bid was focused on being a last ditch effort with a lot os sympathy involved.

      Nothing wrong with how NZ won. It was a smart way to get votes. Nonetheless if the largest bidder was the one to win the fewest votes and the one with the least chances of bringing in a high financial return was the winner I did think a wrong decision had been made. The number of tickets sold in New Zealand 2011 was 1,477,294 compared to 2,263,223 for France 2007 and 1,837,547 for Australia 2003.

      What I personally did not like was the Cup going from Australia to New Zealand eight years later. I was not so fussed by the complications that saw New Zealand lose out on being a subhost for 2003. I knew New Zealand could get its act together and it indeed did.

      The "let's go somewhere new" must, of course, be done carefully. Bidders need to be scrutinized extensively - obviously England was not for 2015 given the dreadful match schedule with 8 games in Wales, 2 in Leeds in 1 in Manchester.