Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Peter Bills: Let the haggling commence for rugby’s big prize

The mother and father of all bartering sessions looks likely to decide the venue for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The news that Australia has pulled out of the race to stage the tournament means that there are only three candidates left: England, Japan and Italy.

Given that Signore Berlusconi is more occupied with finding the latest beauty queen from the Italian mountains or regions to become his new finance minister or foreign secretary, I think we can safely discard the pasta option. Surely, it isn’t serious.

That leaves two candidates and a frank conversation this week with someone in high authority within the game elicited the following, most revealing indicator as to what may influence the final decision.

My contact, sworn to secrecy but someone who will help make the eventual decision, told me this. “Everybody is desperate for money, that’s the first thing to remember. So the decision is sure to be significantly influenced by revenue returns. So I think you would be looking more at England.”

What of poor old Japan, led up the garden path a couple of years ago, weren’t they? In the race for the 2011 tournament which eventually went to old friends, New Zealand, the Japanese were cruelly disappointed. My contact was soothingly reassuring.

“Look, Japan would be a fantastic country to host it and it’s only a matter of time before they do so. They’re going to host the Junior World Cup this year but they probably wouldn’t be as well prepared as England to host the real thing.”

And then came THE critical, most revealing comment. “Where would most countries be most comfortable with, in these times of great uncertainty? Would it be Japan, where they have not staged a Rugby World Cup before, or England where there is a proven market and a proven track record of delivering success?”

In the light of these frankly expressed views, I don’t think you need me to outline for you which country is the clear favourite to host the 2015 event. But an email that dropped onto my system this week suggests to me the game of being coy has already started.

The RFU issued an email asking for comments from rugby fans, punters, the media and anyone with an interest as to the idea of their bidding for the 2015 event. That tells me not that the RFU have doubts — they don’t allow public opinion to formulate their policy.

But what they can do is use a massive ‘yes’ vote in favour of Twickenham bidding for the tournament, to put pressure on the Government to back the bid. And, by the way, Government support will be crucial because the IRB have upped their demand for a basic guarantee fee from £47 million in 2007 and 2011 to £87 million in 2015. That has already come down from £100 million and there’s no doubt they’re susceptible to a further reduction in the arduous bargaining sessions that doubtless lay ahead.

‘Look, our Government will only give us X million. Times are hard; look at the state of the UK economy and the recent tax rises. Government won’t write a blank cheque. But we’ll go to £60 million if you like . . .’

‘We can’t possibly drop to that level’ say the IRB. ‘Look at the benefits to the UK economy if it is held there. We couldn’t possibly go lower than £75 million. . .’

‘About £70 million would be as far as we could go . . .’

And so on and so on.

Expect a compromise deal around that figure.

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