Australia's World Cup bid under threat as USA enters race to host 2027 event
Australia’s quest to host the 2027 World Cup has come under threat following news that the United States has been accepted as a bid candidate.
USA Rugby have entered bids to host either the 2027 or 2031 men’s World Cup, while a bid to host the 2029 women’s World Cup has also been placed.
The bids come after a feasibility study was undertaken last year to research the suitability of an American-hosted World Cup.
Should the USA be successful in any of its bids to host one of the men’s World Cups, it would be the first time rugby’s global showpiece event would be staged in either North or South America.
Hosting the 2027 World Cup in the USA would also be timely given the country is set to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, alongside Canada and Mexico, as well as the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Furthermore, the potential use of NFL stadiums could help make a World Cup a marquee event akin to that of a FIFA World Cup or Olympic Games.
“We first reached out to key stakeholders, cities and stadiums, and groups like NFL and Major League Soccer and others who will be impacted by this,” Jim Brown, chief executive of the USA Rugby World Cup bid, told The Guardian during the feasibility study.
“Our first way was just to see how interest levels were with those key stakeholders. And we got a resounding positive reaction.
“We’re at around 30 host cities that are interested and a little over 30 major stadiums that are interested … and these are the big stadiums: MetLife, New York [home to the Giants and Jets, capacity 82,500], every major stadium from an NFL standard.”
Brown added that college football stadiums like “the Rose Bowl [Pasadena, 91,000, host of the 1994 and 1999 FIFA men’s and women’s World Cup finals], the Cotton Bowl [Dallas, 92,100]” and Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, which holds 71,600, could also be used.
For matches between smaller nations, Brown said Major League Soccer [MLS] venues were being considered “in case we determine matches would better be served in a smaller stadium”.
?? @usmlr‘s biggest stars dominated the @USARugby roster selected by @Garygoldrugby ahead of next month’s test matches versus @IrishRugby & @EnglandRugby. Of particular intrigue are the young players set to earn their first caps ??https://t.co/cYFKvtvnIZ by @AlexanderDiegel
— The Rugby Network (@therugbynetwork) June 11, 2021
It wouldn’t be the first time the United States has hosted a major rugby event.
Between 2014 and 2016, the All Blacks played two tests in front of sold-out crowds at Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears, as they beat the USA 74-6 and lost to Ireland for the first time ever in a 40-29 defeat.
Soldier Field also played host to the Wallabies and the USA in 2015, as well as Ireland and Italy in 2018, although neither match generated as much interest at the two All Blacks tests.
San Fransisco was also the host city of the 2018 Sevens World Cup – which was played at Oracle Park, home to the San Fransisco Giants from Major League Baseball – which more than 100,000 fans attended over the course of three days.
Those spectacles showed glimpses of how a potential explosion of rugby popularity could sweep the USA, which is what happened in Japan when it hosted the 2019 World Cup.
The benefits of staging a World Cup in a developing rugby nation were not only reflected by Japan’s groundbreaking run to the tournament’s quarter-finals, but also in the ensuing years after the event was staged.
Since their breakthrough World Cup campaign where they defeated European powerhouses Ireland and Scotland, the Brave Blossoms have since risen to 10th in the World Rugby rankings and are set to play the British and Irish Lions this month.
At domestic level, the 2020 Top League recorded a surge in attendance figures as a global stars of the game arrived in Japan to ply their club trade before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the competition.
By comparison, the USA Eagles currently rank 16th in the world and lost all four of their matches in Japan two years ago, meaning they have won just three of 25 World Cup matches since 1987.
Major League Rugby, meanwhile, is still only club competition in its early development stages three years after its inaugural campaign.
However, while there is a sense of optimism about what an American-hosted World Cup could provide for rugby, there is strong resistance from other parties interested in hosting the 2027 and 2031 World Cups.
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves, @mcuban.
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— USA Rugby (@USARugby) June 10, 2021
Prior to the USA Rugby’s announcement, Australia and Russia stood as the only nations that had bid for the 2027 World Cup, with Rugby Australia [RA] considered strong favourites to host its first World Cup since 2003.
RA formally launched its bid in Sydney last month and the union’s chairman, Hamish McLennan, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the USA’s poor record in test rugby and USA Rugby’s recent financial woes could count against their World Cup bids.
“I think their Achilles heel is they don’t really have a viable team and [a union] that has just come out of bankruptcy,” McLennan said. “There is no point hosting if you can’t field a proper national team.”
While RA continue to push for the 2027 World Cup hosting rights, USA Rugby may also opt to narrow in on that particular tournament as England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales are thought to be weighing up a conjoint bid to co-host the 2031 World Cup as part of their COVID-19 recovery efforts.
USA Rugby chief executive Ross Young, a former Rugby World Cup general manager, told The Guardian his union hasn’t ruled out the prospect of co-hosting a World Cup with Canada, particularly for the 2029 women’s World Cup.
Cross-border venue sharing at World Cups has been done previously, as was the case in 1987 between New Zealand and Australia, in 1991 between the United Kingdom and Ireland, in 1999 between the UK, Ireland and France, in 2007 between France, Scotland and Wales, and in 2015 between England and Wales.
Before then, though, Young is eager to undergo the bidding process before an official decision is made as to who will host the 2027, 2029 and 2031 World Cups next May.
“We just received the bid documents from World Rugby, and we’re still digesting the documents. We have our first call formal call with them on Thursday, with any questions we may have,” Young told The Guardian.
“But really, the key dates following this would be the end of the year, first drafts of some of the commitment letters and some of the key documentation that they require for their review and obviously discussion. And then the formal bid submissions are due on 14 January.
“Then the decision comes in May. All three at once.”
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