LONDON - Ireland are the favourites to stage the 2023 World Cup, but South Africa are the right choice, for a multitude of reasons.
The bids are in and the independent auditing process is under way to determine whether the Irish, French or South African unions win the vote. A decision is due next month, but once the powers-that-be have confirmation that the numbers add up, there should only be one winner.
Here’s why. For a start, there has always been a balancing act between North and South, with a tournament on one side of the Equator followed by one on the other four years later. That cycle will be broken when Japan host the 2019 event, after England in 2015. If Ireland or France were to be approved for 2023, it would mean a minimum 16-year hiatus between southern World Cups.
Frankly, South Africa and their whole hemisphere need the competition more than Ireland and theirs. Irish rugby is enjoying a historic boom, at Test and provincial level, with success and popularity. South Africa have been undermined by a player exodus to Europe and there are growing signs of public unrest and apathy. The global hunt for new ‘markets’ should not proceed at the expense of a traditional rugby nation in need of a boost.
The tournament was last there back in 1995, whereas France staged it as recently as 2007. On that basis, they should not be considered. Their use of the late Jonah Lomu’s children as part of their final presentation last week was a crass stunt. In addition, Paris has an Olympics to prepare for in 2024 — they can do without another sporting showpiece the year before.
South Africa hosted the football World Cup in 2010. They have modern stadia, ready for use, with bigger capacities than the Irish can muster. They have considerable major-event pedigree. They also have cities with the tourism infrastructure to cope with a massive influx of overseas visitors, to an extent that Ireland simply cannot match outside Dublin.
The Irish deal to cap hotel price inflation is a superb step towards ending chronic profiteering which takes advantage of supporters. But in the same way, day-to-day costs for fans in South Africa will be far lower than in either of the rival countries. Weather is a factor too, often wet and wild in a northern autumn or dry and warm in an African spring? That is a reasonable consideration.
It is time to look south again. It is time to look to South Africa again.