CAPE TOWN – South Africa’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid was given an international vote of confidence through the reporting of two of the game’s most influential rugby writers.
Stephen Jones of the London Sunday Times described South Africa’s bid as “magnificent” and the New Zealand Herald’s Gregor Paul wrote that South Africa arguably had the greatest ability of the three bidders to generate that "wow factor" experience.
Both writers acknowledged the strength of France and Ireland as potential hosts, but Jones was quick to caution his audience that it was not a two-horse northern hemisphere race.
“Last week, several accounts of the media presentation of bids mentioned only Ireland and France, as if South Africa have no chance whatsoever. Another account said that Ireland were ‘hot favourites’. Neither assertion is true,” wrote Jones.
“The truth is that the South African bid is magnificent. They have a sound track record in staging big events and their stadiums are all sensational. The country has good communications and for those who travel with open eyes and hearts, it is a magnificent place.
“And, tellingly, their bid document features the words of the late President Mandela on page three. Memories of the glorious weeks in South Africa in 1995 can still pull the heart strings 22 years on.”
Jones and Paul highlighted political negativity, real or perceived, as the only obstacle to South Africa hosting the Rugby World Cup for a second time.
Jones wrote that if the South Africans could convince World Rugby’s authorities that their money is safe and that none would be salted away, then South Africa could win the right to again bring the tournament to Africa.
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s presence in London for the bid presentations on September 25 would have done much to allay fears, and all reports were flattering and complimentary of the Deputy President’s impact when addressing World Rugby’s General Council.
SA Rugby Union CEO Jurie Roux superbly led the technical summary of South Africa’s bid, Springbok World Cup-winning captains Francois Pienaar (1995) and John Smit (2007) added presence, charm and integrity to the South African bid team, and South African rugby could not have asked for a more favourable government impression than that which was created by Ramaphosa.
Paul, in assessing the three bidding countries, applauded Ireland and France as worthy of hosting the World Cup, but he focused on the option of South Africa as the one he would want to see winning World Rugby’s General Council vote on November 15.
Paul wrote: “The World Cup hasn’t been in South Africa since 1995 and to many, it remains one of the best – certainly one of the more emotionally charged and inspiring. To leave South Africa out in the cold for at least another four years would be a shocking way to treat one of the aristocrats of the game.”
Paul argued that deciding a World Cup host shouldn’t be a cold, clinical exercise made on the back of a handful of grey men and women pouring over spreadsheets and giving their view on the numbers.
“Forget the economics, the politics, the sponsors, the time zones, the broadcast implications and whatever else the money men endless fret about,” he wrote. “It should be an emotional process, driven by the heart and not the head. All three bids have the potential to deliver the money World Rugby is looking for.
“A World Cup is an experience more than an event. (South Africa 2023) would be an odyssey through a traditional rugby power - as close as anyone could ever get to re-enacting an old-school tour.
“It would be a tournament dripping in nostalgia and yet everywhere there would be constant reminders of the changing face of South Africa.”
Paul recognised Ireland’s improvement on the field in the last five years, with the apex being 2016’s history-making first ever win against the All Blacks in Chicago, but he said the Boks remained one of the game’s icons.
“Ireland can legitimately argue they are the fast rising, new force of world rugby and they are due some kind of acknowledgement,” said Paul. “But South Africa have won two World Cups and the Boks have been a rugby heavyweight since year dot. South Africa’s need and right to be acknowledged is greater than Ireland’s.
“And maybe above all else, it is simply time South Africa was shown a bit of love: rewarded for its long and rich rugby history and contribution.”