The final list of venues for Rugby Union World Cup 2015 is due to be released at the end of March. However, in the “Sunday Times” of March 4, rugby writer Stephen Jones “revealed” the final list of 12 stadia. The 2015 tournament will see the sport showcased almost exclusively away from rugby stadiums, with 9 of the 12 venues selected being football grounds.
According to Jones Gloucester’s Kingsholm is the only club rugby stadium on the list, with the only other recognised rugby arenas being Twickenham and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Leicester Tigers have already vented their disgust that no games will take place at their 24,000-capacity Welford Road, while Leicester City’s 32,000-capacity King Power Stadium will stage four games.
However less than a day after the article was published it was announced that Exeter’s Sandy Park has been added to the list of the 18 “potential” venues, as redevelopment work on Bristol City’s Ashton Gate may not be completed in time for the event.
But Sandy Park’s capacity will only be 12,000 at the time of the tournament so it does raise the question as to whether this is a “political” decision.
An unnamed “member of the organising committee” was quoted in the same Sunday Times article as saying “People tell us that we should stick to known rugby areas. Doesn’t that miss the opportunity to spread the game? Just because there is no pro team in a town, that doesn’t mean it’s not a rugby area”
He might have added that the organisers need an average attendance of 55,000 just to meet the £80m guarantee they had to make to the International Rugby Board. So from a purely revenue point of view, using football stadiums is a no-brainer. The need is to shift 2.9million tickets, and time is against staging World Cup games at the Olympic Stadium. Even Wembley’s availability is complicated by a potential clash with American football!
The World Cup is scheduled for the early part of the football season. Should we assume someone has thought to discuss potential fixture clashes with the Premier League who can get quite uppity about these sorts of things?
As a fan of both the round and oval ball games I’d like to believe the choice should not boil down to simple capacity, the number of toilets or executive boxes, or even the number of rugby clubs in the area. In other words, the ability to charm both rugby fans and attract curious neutrals should swing it.
What no-one should forget is that ultimately the tournament will be judged as much on say, Georgia v Namibia in Coventry as England v Australia at Twickenham The Olympics had fun and community engagement at its core. If this is missing in 2015 it will be the biggest wasted opportunity of our rugby lifetimes.