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France's World Cup coup proves cash is true king

 

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Those running Irish rugby found out who their friends really are in Kensington yesterday. The results of the vote on who would host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 were as resounding as they weren't pretty.

By the time the decision was actually made, the smallest of the three nations was already out of the running and left asking itself if spending their resources and money on this process had been worth it all.

All that work, all that money and in the end they could count just eight of 39 votes of their own. South Africa, the bid endorsed by Rugby World Cup's technical evaluation, received 13 and France 18. When the Irish votes were redistributed, most of them went the way of France who finished with 24 and South Africa on 15.

As the Council delegates adjourned for lunch, World Rugby's ashen-face big hitters tried to stand over a process that was burning behind them.

No matter how often they muttered the word "transparency" it wouldn't stick.

The secret ballot had turned their much-vaunted process upside down and Joel Stransky's charge that the governing body remains "an old boys' club" was hard to argue with.

The South Africans were stunned, the Irish less surprised but no less disappointed.

The French could barely contain their jubilation. The Irish bid had, the men in green ties insisted, left no stone unturned, yet they couldn't even count on their neighbours and supposed allies in the heels of the hunt.

The next Guinness PRO14 board meeting should be interesting. With Scotland and Italy voting for France and Wales opting for the South Africans, Ireland had no chance of success.

Ireland's eight votes were sourced from their friends at the English RFU and in North America and one of Rugby Europe's two. Support elsewhere was not forthcoming.

Ireland was given a bloody nose, but it only contributed to a small amount of the claret on the boardroom floor.

In an ideal world, the delegates would heed the non-binding recommendation of South Africa made by the technical review group three weeks ago.

In the sanctity of the ballot box, they went their own way and, in the end, that report and the integrity of the entire process was in tatters.

They did their best to poke holes to their own end, but Ireland's efforts may have simply assisted the French who had always had the most cash on the table in guaranteeing €167m for the coffers.

Between them, Ireland and France created enough doubt in delegates' minds to help them consider not voting along the company lines. So, they voted with their wallets.

IRFU Chief Executive Philip Browne revealed that €3.25m - spread across the union and the governments north and south - had been spent on the Irish bid.

The chief executive was in feisty form in Kensington and conceded that he and his colleagues would not consider running again if the parameters that are in place now remained in future.

"The reality is that unless you have big, shiny, new stadia you've got to wonder why you bid," he said.

"World Rugby needs to decide what sort of tournament they want and make sure everyone understands what their vision is at the outset. Then we can decide whether we're going to bid again or not."

Would they go again?

"Not under these parameters," he said.

The Irish weren't the only unhappy campers.

While they didn't throw their toys out of the pram, the South Africans were clearly seething at being denied.

Had World Rugby's process worked, they would be looking forward to a first home World Cup since 1995 but for the fourth successive occasion they were left licking their wounds.

South Africa rugby Chief executive Jurie Roux suggested that not all had been above board.

"The last two weeks it was very opaque," he said.

"There was a set of rules and we abided by those rules up to today. Several rules were broken during that process which we are upset about. This is the first time ever World Rugby has made a recommendation and it has been voted against.

"We will beg World Rugby to modify that process. We apologise to South Africans for raising any expectations."

In the end, the French realpolitik had won out and the losing bids and World Rugby were left asking hard questions.

The answer to most of them will be found in the balance sheets.

France proved yet again that cash is king in this game.

Belfast Telegraph

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