Tuesday, May 19, 2015

RWC Bid: Ireland Claims to have 40% of the votes before Process Begins

Photo RTE
The application process for submitting interest in being the host nation for Rugby World Cup 2023 remains open. The global governing body of the sport, World Rugby confirmed recently that unions have until June 15 to confirm their intention of hosting the competition. To date France, Ireland, Italy and South Africa have all done so while speculation exists that this list will grow to include others. Despite there still being time and for the individual details of the bids remaining largely unknown a bomb-shell has been dropped as Dick Spring, the Chairman of Ireland's bid has told RTE Radio that Ireland has also secured 40% of the required votes. Such confidence brings into question the legitimacy of the decision making process with it appearing to be anything but fair.

Ireland is seeking to host a third Rugby World Cup but do so as the principal host nation for the first time. Matches were staged in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland during Rugby World Cups 1991 and 1999 with Dublin hosting a Semi Final and a Quarter Final in addition to pool matches. It was to host matches again in 2007 only for the reconstruction of the now Aviva Stadium in Dublin to see the matches transferred to France. 

Ireland now feels it is time to host again, but this time to do so alone by having all matches played on the island of Ireland. Doing so would mean that the home unions would continue the policy of hosting Rugby World Cup matches every eight years and see England and Wales hosting in 2015 closely followed by neighboring Ireland doing so eight years later. 

The possibility of Ireland hosting came about after New Zealand did so in 2011. Interested in having the opportunity of hosting alone Ireland quickly confirmed it was interested in hosting in 2023 and, it would appear, has since been working hard behind the scenes to convince those who hold voting power that Ireland indeed should host.

In speaking out about the work being done Spring said ''I would say at this stage we are already up over the 40% mark''. How can this be when it is not yet known as to who are all the possible countries interested in hosting the tournament? It underlines a significant flaw in the decision making process in that it is not fair for everybody.  

At this point in time voters are in no position to make anything remotely close to being an informed decision as they are yet to be presented with all the options. Ireland's confidence is based on the decision making power being wielded by a select few, of whom all have hosted previous Rugby World Cups to date exclusively.

The distribution of votes on the World Rugby Council is a direct reflection not of the present but, rather, of the past. Having knowledge as to how power is distributed within the council is central to  understanding why New Zealand hosted Rugby World Cup 2011 and not Japan and why Italy missed out to England, a previous host, in hosting this year's World Cup. Based on Spring's statements Ireland understands it all to well.

Spring's 40% is, quite simply, members of the 'Old Boys Club'. A total of eight unions have two votes each and together they represent a direct majority on the World Rugby Council. These eight are Australia, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa and Wales. They are, in other words, the members of the former Five Nations and Tri Nations annual competitions which Italy and Argentina joined respectively in 2000 and 2012. 

In Ireland's favor is the Time Zone, proximity to other members of the Six Nations Championship and gaining clearance to use GAA stadia. With France and South Africa both officially bidding Ireland therefore cannot rely on these four votes, not unless they are eliminated in the first round of voting, nor can it vote itself. Spring is therefore backing on having the votes of Australia, England, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales. Together they have ten votes or 41.6% of the required votes to win. In the event of a tie the World Rugby Chairman must exercise his vote, the 27th.

The 'Old Boys Club' is therefore very much at play and it could see Italy missing out to another European bidder not for reasons for merit but, to the contrary, back-scratching. Looking to make the voting a more legitimate reflection of rugby in the twenty-first century World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper made it known in 2013 that authorities were seeking to have Argentina and Italy given equal voting power to those mentioned above. Both continue to have just a single vote each, or a combined total matching that of Scotland. 

Spring curiously compares the World Rugby Council to that of the United Nations Security Council, in that not all members have equal say and, in fact, certain countries have immense influence. He also, however, confirms that Gosper's promise is to in fact come into effect in the Northern Hemisphere's autumn of 2015 with more unions being given voting power. The exact nature of this remains unconfirmed but Spring claims ''everybody wants change but nobody wants to lose their strong position.'' 

Currently getting the backing of the unions with two votes is the difference between winning and losing a Rugby World Cup bid. In order to ensure the legitimacy of World Rugby and the Rugby World Cup, however, decreasing the power wielded by the 'Old Boys Club' is absolutely essential. It would make the process significantly fairer for all and the potential for trading matches for votes less likely.

A public backlash occurred when Japan was not chosen for hosting in 2011 and Ireland will need to work hard to convince others that it deserves or the World Cup could face similar criticism. Italy is bidding against Ireland while Argentina's World Rugby Council member and former Pumas captain Agustín Pichot has stated publicly on numerous occasions that he wants Argentina to have the opportunity of hosting in 2023. With changes to the Council voting structure both will likely obtain notably more votes that they would under the existing set-up.


  1. I'd be very surprised if NZ and Australia voted for Ireland, at least in the first round. I totally agree as I've said in the past that all unions who have two votes should lose one. I don't think the answer is giving Argentina and Italy two votes. That's just making "the club" a little bigger. By the way, Argentina (and Japan) do have a de facto two votes because the regional confederation rep on the WR council is also from those countries which I'm sure you're aware of so deliberately decided to omit from your article which is a bit ingenious IMHO. Again it's something I've said a number of times, that the regional confederation rep shouldn't be from a country who already has representation on the council. To be honest because the number of bidders is as you say unknown at this stage, and the likelihood of any of RSA, Argentina (and its CONSUR vote), NZ and Aussie voting for Ireland if there is a southern hemisphere option (s) is pretty low, I think this is just Ireland playing a bit of bluster and politics and I'm taking it with a fairly large grain of salt.

    If they have got 40% or close to it, it might be through Canada's and NACRA's (USARFU rep on the WR) votes in addition to those from the other home unions as those two countries have pretty close relations with Ireland and include plenty of Irish heritage in their makeup. If so that would be a large blow to the UAR's hopes to see fellow Americas votes go somewhere else. Now this is pure conjecture on my part but I think it's a bigger possibility than NZ and Aussie voting green. I have to say I'd be very upset (and I think a large majority of the NZ rugby community would be too) if the NZRFU went for Ireland rather than a SANZARA colleague.

    CAR is not going to vote for Ireland - their's will go to RSA or France. AER will more probably vote for Italy or France than Ireland. But they would vote green if it comes down to Europe v somewhere else rather than Europe v Europe so Ireland maybe counting their vote as well as part of that 40% thinking that from their perspective theirs a big possibility it will be Ireland v RSA at the end. Who Japan and their defacto second vote ARFU go for is anyone's guess but the JRFU is pretty conservative, and unlike NZ and Aussie they don't have particularly strong ties to Argentina or RSA so I wouldn't be at all surprised if they went green in the end. Hong Kong who also have a strong voice in the ARFU (Trevor Gregory et al) has strong UK expat connections so I suspect they will be pushing for the ARFU vote to go to Ireland.

  2. Again you bring up 2011. I've told you a million times as someone who was living in Japan at the time and who has a thorough knowledge of the game in the country that that backlash was born of ignorance of the frailty of the JRFU bid and issues the sport has in Japan which I've also said still remain unresolved despite the JRFU hosting the 2019RWC. You choose to continually ignore those comments from someone who knows which is pretty ignorant on your part.

    1. That may be, and I am not saying it is not, however Japan's issues were not the reason for New Zealand winning the hosting rights.

  3. BTW Mr Spring seems to be under the impression that it is a multi-round vote of the full council. If I remember correctly in 2009 it wasn't that method at all. It was an exec only meeting (not the full council) that agreed to make preferences (England and Japan) and then put those preferences to a full council one off vote. I remember both Italy and RSA criticising the way the decision was made quite vociferously. But the fact that different methods have been used means it can't be taken for granted which one will be used unless Mr Spring has already been told of course. Maybe that's a question you should tweet Mr Gosper Paul.

    1. The official policy for 2023 voting is yet to be made public. Hints have pointed to the voting being the same to that of the 2011 decision. The manner in which England and Japan were allocated was certainly questionable. It was designed to make it hard for them to miss out.

  4. Highly unlikely that Argentina could have any chance of winning a 2023 vote.

    A European World Cup is a money winner, especially in terms of demanding higher pay tv and sponsorship revenue (ticket revenue does not go to the IRB, it goes to the host). Due to time zone and language differences and the fact that many products sold in other countries are not even available in Latin America, and the fact that even Pumas games against Australia and South Africa are not sell outs, the financial case for Argentina is wanting.

    If you look at the voting structure in the IRB there are 27 votes, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa all have two votes each. Italy, Argentina, Japan and Canada have one vote each, as do the six regions: Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Africa and Oceania, and if it comes down to it, the IRB President has a vote.

    In other words 12 votes are from Europe, and usually the Europeans do deals with each other to get each thers votes. This makes it highly likely that every second world cup will always be in Europe.

    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your input but some things to bare in mind.

      1. New Zealand 2011 had higher TV revenue than France 2007.

      2. Sponsorship revenue was higher for 2011 than 2007. Country has less to do with the product than you suggest.

      3. Time Zone is a huge bonus for Argentina. One of the greatest strengths. No other Tier 1 market can offer good kick-off times for both the European and Oceania markets. Proof is when South Africa play in Arg compared to when New Zealand do.

      4. The Suggestion Argentina is weak as it speaks Spanish is not convincing. France does not speak English nor does Japan. In fact World Rugby is out to change it's image and the CEO has said it wants new hosts in places with no prior hosting experience.

      5. Argentina's ticket sales for Rugby Championship matches are far higher than an other Tier 1 rugby country when considering GDP. When they are more affordable all tickets sell. History has shown precisely this. Australia v Argentina in Perth and Gold Coast in recent years were flops in terms of sales.

      6. Ireland, France and Italy are all European and all confirmed as interested in bidding for 2023. Europe is therefore going to be extremely divided with voting behavior in the past suggesting that no union has a majority.