It’s still nine years away from happening but already several nations have expressed interest in hosting the 2013 World Cup. Italy, Argentina, U.S.A., and Ireland are some of the known countries but there will likely be a few others (South Africa has been mentioned) that throw their hats into the ring as the time gets closer. Of those teams that have expressed interest the smart money is on either Italy or Ireland hosting.
The IRB went a little out of their typical pattern when they awarded the 2019 World Cup to Japan. Up until they made that decision the World Cup had been given to a Tier I country. There are plenty of reasons why they have done that—rewarding established fan bases, venues, etc.,–but mostly it comes down to IRB politics. The IRB is still ruled by a few top governing bodies and they aren’t too keen to do anything that would take away potential revenue from one of their governing boards. The move to award Japan the World Cup was only done because a World Cup in Japan is a near guarantee to make money.
With the IRB wanting to bring the tournament back to an established country Italy and Ireland make sense from their point of view. Even though Italy is not in the same category as England or Australia the tournament could improve the state of rugby in that country which would bolster the rest of the Six Nations.
Ireland has been the most vocal when it comes to hosting the World Cup. They have even secured Gaelic sports stadiums to increase their potential bid. However, with all due respect to Ireland and their fans, awarding the World Cup to Ireland would be a mistake. It’s absolutely true that Ireland have a great rugby tradition. They have some of the best clubs in terms of support, a solid national team, and have produced some of the game’s best icons. But awarding a World Cup to another traditional power will continue to keep rugby from reaching new heights.
In some ways it is unfair to compare the Rugby World Cup to the FIFA World Cup. The sports are simply on two different levels right now. Still, it’s important to make the comparison as a point of reference. One of the things that has helped the FIFA World Cup grow into an even bigger event in the last twenty years was the decision to award the World Cup to the United States and Japan/South Korea. In both places the World Cup helped accelerate the growth of the game, especially among a younger generation. All you have to do is look at the growth in poplaraity of not only soccer in general in the United States but also the attached fans now have to foreign clubs.
If the Rugby World Cup were awarded to the United States there is no guarantee that the same thing would happen for rugby, but at least the effort would be made. The IRB is always talking about growing rugby in new markets. Placing the World Cup in a traditional market is not going to get that done. In places like Russia, Canada, and the United States it will be just another fringe event that people sort of tune into once every four years. If the IRB wants to change that they need to bring the tournament directly to them.
Overall, it’s not so much that Ireland wouldn’t host a fantastic World Cup, they obviously would, it’s that rugby has now reached a point where the status quo is no longer going to cut it. Rugby has not accelerated at the pace it needs to in developing markets over the last 10 years. That is the IRB’s long-term problem and without addressing it soon they face the prospect of never being able to overcome the hurdle.