Wednesday, November 19, 2014

World Rugby: Rebranding and the need to have new host nations

Image: World Rugby
The rebranding of the IRB to become World Rugby is an important part of rugby changing its image from being a sport played in certain countries to being one of global importance. 'International' needed replacing with a stronger word and world was utilized for this reason. The change now carries with it the mandatory task of ensuring that Rugby World Cup 2023 is allocated to a country that is a first time host nation. England and Wales will host Rugby World Cup 2015 and Japan will do so in 2019. Argentina is the top ranked nation and top ranked World Cup performer never to have hosted Rugby World Cup matches. The rebranding ought to see this changed with the detailed argument in favor of Argentina hosting becoming increasingly convincing. Those wanting to know more or having doubt over Argentina's credentials ought to order a copy of the book Rugby World Cup Argentina 2023.

Founded in 1886 the International Rugby Football Board was the body created to act for the sport's affairs in an international context. The organization evolved and established the Rugby World Cup which was first played in 1987 and is now one year away from the eighth edition of the global event. 

Since its inception the Rugby World Cup has been modified from a sixteen team to a twenty team format and the sport has become professional. Changes also saw the name being shortened to the International Rugby Board (IRB) in 1998 which this week has been rebranded to now be known as World Rugby.

At the helm of the change was CEO Brett Gosper who insists that the name change is about far more than serving existing markets. Gosper insists that ''we also want to gather in new audiences around the world from outside, let's say, the 'church of rugby. World Rugby helps us do that.''

The centre piece of Rugby World Cup 2015 will be Twickenham, a venue known in Argentina as the cathedral. As the home of the RFU and the sole venue in which England hosts test match rugby it is acknowledged as being holy ground in rugby terms. Former Pumas captain and IRB Hall of Famer, Agustín Pichot, said words to this effect upon defeating England at the venue in 2006. 

Twickenham is to host ten or 20.83% of the tournament's forty-eight matches and will be supported by two other London venues with Wembley Stadium hosting two and the Olympic Stadium five matches. The English capital will, thus, host a staggering seventeen matches meaning 35.41% of all matches will be played in the city. 

In total there will be thirteen venues with the three London stadiums being joined by venues from nine other English cities in addition to the Millenium Stadium in Wales. The home of Welsh rugby will host eight matches, double the number of any English stadium outside of the capital. It is to host pool matches involving nine of the twenty competing nations and will be doing so despite having hosted matches in Rugby World Cups 1991, 1999 and 2007. 

Rugby World Cup 2015 is to be Wales' fourth opportunity and it is to be England's third. Every eight years the World Cup has had matches in Wales and, indeed, in the U.K. In combination with the words of Gosper a return to Wales is absolutely off the question as should be a World Cup in Europe in 2023.

New audiences outside of the 'church of rugby' will need to be acquired to fulfill the mission laid out by Gosper of World Rugby. This means not only Wales should not been entitled to hosting any matches during Rugby World Cup 2023 but nor should other previous hosts including Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa.

England and Wales hosting in 2015 was voted in ahead of a country never to have hosted a World Cup match, Italy. Similarly, New Zealand won the hosting rights to Rugby World Cup 2011 ahead of Japan, a country who had never hosted, unlike New Zealand, but will do so in 2019. South Africa was unable to win the backing for any of the three tournaments despite bidding on all occasions. 

Speculation from some has said that with Japan hosting in 2019 the host nation of 2023 will be a previous host in an established maket. It will, in other words, be the contrary of what Gosper's organization is proporting. 2023, quite simply, cannot take place in a country which has hosting experience unless no new countries express interest. 

Argentina has displayed an intention of bidding and is the only Semi Finalist in Rugby World Cup history to not have hosted a Rugby World Cup. The country has joined the Tri Nations to form the rebranded Rugby Championship which has been a commercial success with sponsorship for the UAR having boomed since 2012. Unprecedented profits have been used as an investment and will see Argentina entering a team in Super Rugby in 2016. 

Continued regular exposure will only increase the justification for the Americas to host a Rugby World Cup for the first time. As the last region to be allocated a Rugby World Cup the mission of World Rugby ties in perfectly with the campaign to have Argentina host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. Will it be the time for the eyes of the church and beyond  to focus on Buenos Aires with a previous FIFA World Cup host having an opportunity to show how important rugby is in Argentina and how far the sport has come and will continue to do so?

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