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IRFU letter attacks 3 flaws in South Africa's RWC bid...including the country's 'junk' credit rating

By Ian Cameron
Wallabies and Springboks embrace. (Photo by Getty).

The head of the Irish Rugby, IRFU CEO Phillip Browne has written to World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper outlining what he sees as serious flaws in the Rugby World Cup bid of South Africa.


In what is the latest blow in an increasingly acrimonious RWC host selection process, Browne highlighted ’empty stadiums’, security concerns and the creditability of South Africa’s finances among issues that could affect the 2023 RWC.

Key in the points Browne raises is whether or not South Africa can fill their stadia, an issue which has plagued South African franchises in Super Rugby and more recently Pro14.

“There are very clear examples in recent times of starkly empty stadia in South Africa for significant fixtures. The evaluation report does not appear to address this in any meaningful way.”

He goes on to pose the question: “What specific consideration was given as to how South Africa will achieve full stadia, particularly across the pool stage matches involving lower seeded teams?”

Browne also questioned had an independent security agency assessed the security issues surrounding the South African bid.

“Was an independently recognised, world-class security organisation used to review the underlying security situation within each bidding country… if not, why not?”


And in an unprecedented low blow, Browne suggests that South Africa international credit rating – a BB+ – should be taken into account when factoring in the state’s ability to underwrite the tournament on behalf of the SARU.

“We are concerned regarding the evaluation of financial commitments and guarantees, given South Africa’s current sovereign credit rating as categorised by Standard & Poor’s, is BB+, which is defined as speculative grade (sometimes referred to as ‘junk’).

“For the RWC 2015 and 2019 bid evaluation process, World Rugby appointed an experienced external organisation (Barclays) to conduct an independent sovereign risk assessment related to guarantees, and each of the guarantors, provided by each bid. This appears reasonable as part of any risk based evaluation, particularly given the importance of these financial guarantees to the funding of World Rugby and the global game.

“Can RWCL confirm whether a similar rigorous assessment has been conducted for the 2023 process on each bid and if so can you please share this assessment?”


Browne’s strongly worded letter comes on back of Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar swipe at the SARU’s bid last week, in which he suggested ‘half full’ ‘soccer stadiums on the outskirts of cities would not be good for the game.


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