SA optimistic about 2015 rugby

The triumphant Springbok team, with
former president Thabo Mbeki at centre
left, lifts the William Webb Ellis for the
second time. (Image: Saru)

The coveted trophy. (Image: Saru)

Should South Africa succeed in its bid,
the breathtaking Soccer City will be the
scene of the opening and closing games.
(Image: Soccer City)

The jubilant staff of the Nelson Mandela
Foundation celebrate the Springboks’
2007 victory with their esteemed patron.
(Image: Nelson Mandela Foundation)

An iconic image from 1995 – former
president Mandela, wearing the captain’s
no. 6 jersey, presents the cup to then
captain Francois Pienaar.
(Image: Rugby World Cup)

A disappointing sight for rival teams – IRB
Player of the Year 2007 Bryan Habana
soars over the tryline. (Image: Saru)

Janine Erasmus

The South African Rugby Union (Saru) is strongly optimistic about its bid to host the 2015 or 2019 Rugby World Cup. The national rugby body made its 30-minute presentation to the International Rugby Board (IRB) in Dublin on 13 May 2009 after formally submitting its proposal the previous week.

South Africa hosted the world’s most prestigious rugby tournament in 1995, a year after the demise of apartheid. In that year the national team, the Springboks, lifted the trophy for the first time.

The Springboks, currently ranked number two in the world, repeated the feat at the 2007 event held in France. In doing so South Africa became one of only two countries, after Australia, to win the championship twice. The country is also one of just two to host and win an event.

The next tournament takes place in New Zealand, land of the top-ranked All Blacks, in 2011.

Speaking from Dublin, Saru deputy president Mark Alexander described South Africa’s bid as “compelling”, adding that he was excited about the country’s chances of snatching either tournament from under the noses of close contenders Italy, England, and up-and-coming rugby nation Japan.

According to Alexander, the response from the IRB was positive and spirits were high among the Saru presentation party. “I believe we did an excellent job and we gave good responses to questions asked,” he remarked. “The feedback we received so far has been very positive, so we hope we can get one of the events.”

Springbok team manager Morné du Plessis, a rugby veteran with a distinguished career as captain behind him, was equally optimistic. “Our new stadiums will allow us to provide 2.8-million match tickets at prices that will make the tournament affordable for all South Africans as well as international visitors.”

The local time zone, added Alexander, is also attractive for broadcasters and sponsors as it is in line with Europe, the sport’s wealthiest television market.

Impressed

The IRB, too, was also impressed with the quality of the four presentations. IRB chair Bernard Lapasset enthused, “We are delighted to have four countries of the calibre of England, Italy, Japan and South Africa bidding for the right to host a Rugby World Cup. The presentations mark the latest milestone in the detailed analysis of the tenders, including independent financial and commercial evaluation.”

The South African bid party also included the video presence of Springbok captain John Smit and 2007 IRB Player of the Year Bryan Habana, who were unable to be there in person because of Super 14 commitments.

The next step in the careful selection procedure is for the IRB’s technical team to inspect facilities in all bidding nations. Then the four contenders will face a nail-biting two months of IRB deliberations before the future hosts for both events are announced on 28 July.

For the next couple of months the sporting focus will be on rugby, not only because of the World Cup bids in progress, but also because of the British and Irish Lions tour, which begins in South Africa at the end of May.

The British and Irish Lions tour, the first by that team in 12 years, will bring an estimated R1-billion (US$1-million) into the country. A successful tour will add momentum to South Africa’s chances of hosting the world rugby spectacle.

Government support

At a media briefing held before the bid team left for Ireland, Saru president Oregan Hoskins praised government for its support. “They have provided the financial backing to allow us to complete what we believe is a compelling case to bring the Rugby World Cup back home.” he said.

The IRB council has demanded guarantees of US$122-million (R1.04-billion) and $147-million (R1.25-billion) for the privilege of hosting the 2015 and 2019 tournaments respectively. Saru confirmed that the government has underwritten these amounts.

With major infrastructure already in place, South Africa has a financial advantage over its rivals, especially in light of the global credit crisis.

Hoskins revealed that Saru would use Johannesburg’s magnificent Soccer City stadium as the bid’s centrepiece. The 91 000-capacity calabash-shaped stadium is in the final stages of construction for the 2010 Fifa World Cup and should South Africa successfully win either rugby tournament, the opening and closing games will take place at Soccer City.

Strong case

Japan is expected to make a strong showing because the tournament has never been held in Asia and the IRB is on a drive to develop the sport in new territories. According to a report on the IRB website, the rugby body will invest over $219-million (R1.86-billion) in the global game over the next four years.

A northern-hemisphere country may also be a more likely choice than one in the southern hemisphere.

But South Africa has three exceptional strengths which form the core of its bid.

The country, in the opinion of Saru, offers a dramatic stage for the game of rugby, and South African hosting experience can produce a commercially profitable tournament. Finally, with many world class stadiums newly refurbished for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, players, spectators, officials and media alike will benefit from an unmatched rugby experience.

Boost to the economy

Saru said either event would inject up to R10-billion into South Africa’s economy, although an independent report by international accounting and consulting firm, Deloitte, calculated the total economic benefit for the host country at up to $3.2-billion (R27.4-billion).

This is in addition to the anticipated R5-billion ($5-million) flowing into South Africa from the numerous cricket, rugby and football events that take place in 2009 alone.

Host to the world

South Africa has a proud track record in hosting major international sporting events. The country is currently playing host to the thrilling Indian Premier League of cricket, after that event was moved from the Indian subcontinent because of safety concerns. The forthcoming British and Irish Lions tour will provide supporters with a feast of rugby.

In June the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup kicks off, and later in the year another grand cricket event, the International Cricket Council’s Champions Trophy, will again see fans flocking to South Africa from all over the world.

The cricket, football and rugby bonanza will entrench South Africa’s well-established reputation as a successful host of big international sporting events.

The country already lists among its many accomplishments the 1996 African Cup of Nations and World Cup of Golf, the 1998 World Cup of Athletics, the 2003 Cricket World Cup, the 2006 Paralympic Swimming World Championships, and the inaugural World Twenty20 Championship, held in 2007.

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