'It is difficult' - The immediate task facing USA Rugby after red letter day
Gary Gold has paid tribute to the men who transformed USA Rugby from a bankrupt organisation just 20 months ago into the hosts of the 2031 men’s and 2033 women’s Rugby World Cup tournaments.
The USA Rugby Board of Directors and Congress voted to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as a result of insurmountable financial problems on March 30, 2020, leaving Gold, the head coach, and his Eagles players out of work. However, a solution was found that allowed the sport to be revived and now USA Rugby has been handed the chance to finally give the game a significant place in the American sporting landscape.
Gold will now face even more pressure to secure qualification for the 2023 Cup in France by beating Chile in qualifying in July to join England, Argentina, Japan and Samoa in Pool D. He told RugbyPass: “It is brilliant that this has happened and there is now something tangible that we can touch and move towards. But, if you are trying to build confidence in the host country then it is important you are competing at World Cups.
“While we are celebrating the exceptionally good news today, we are still suffering from the effects of bankruptcy 20 months ago and I am not sure that many people at that time would have bet on us being awarded a World Cup.
“Fair play to the guys like Ross Young, Paul Santinelli and Jim Brown at USA Rugby, they got us pretty much unharmed through bankruptcy and while we have had to start again, this is a real life line. It is a very strong step in the right direction and it’s very exciting times.”
Gold has always dismissed the idea that just throwing money at the sport in the USA would allow it to compete against the established NFL, NHL and NBA and is adamant growth has to be based on established clubs and academies to ensure success. He said: “The idea that some philanthropist was going to ride in on his white horse and write out a cheque for hundreds of millions of dollars was never going to happen.
“When Japan was awarded the World Cup their Top League was a good competition but I don’t think it was in a better state than what the MLR is at the moment. You are going to see a lot of people getting behind the build-up and while nine years is a long time, in many ways it is short time to get things done.
“Luckily in terms of stadia the USA is far ahead but now it is about getting the real work done at youth and academy level because the squad of 33 players who will go to the 2031 men’s World Cup are probably between 15 and 20-years old now. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the development of those players.
“Getting playing numbers up to 450,000 is feasible. Of course NBA, NFL, and NHL are massive sports but once you come out of college and university, if you haven’t made the draft then unlike rugby, there aren’t amateur NFL teams to join. Therefore, there are thousands of talented football players whose careers are done – that is not how rugby works.
“I am not going to says that in my life time rugby is going to compete with NFL, NHL or NBA. But can rugby grow in America as soccer has done since the 1994 FIFA World Cup? Most definitely. The country is now going to stage the third biggest sporting event in the world and that will be followed by the women’s Rugby World Cup which bodes really well for the game globally.”
The USA Eagles have to beat Chile home and away in July to secure a place in the World Cup in France next year and failure would be seen a significant pot hole on the road to 2031.
South African Gold can take comfort from the return to fitness of key players for the matches away to Chile on July 9 and home in Glendale on July16. He said: “It is difficult at the moment because Chile have been playing regularly and we haven’t assembled or played. We are going to be playing the French Barbarians in Houston on July 2 and it’s Regulation 9 window and we should have access to all our players around the world- that will be the first time for a long time.
“We had some real important injuries to AJ McGinty( Sale), Titi Lamositele (Montepellier) and Joe Taufatee (ex-Lyon) and Paul Lasike (ex-Harlequins)– four critical players for us. Paul is back at Utah and has got a little calf problem but hopefully be ready for the games in July.
“It is important we are flying the flag at all the World Cups and each tournament is a stepping stone towards 2031. You want to give guys as much experience of World Cups as possible to have that knowledge and understanding and if you did miss out on one of those tournaments it wouldn’t be a game changer it just wouldn’t be ideal.”
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