Taking Rugby World Cups to America at the expense of actual rugby nations is harmful
No-one’s ever going to cry a river for New Zealand.
Rugby fans the world over seem pretty tired of us, frankly, and are actually rather heartened by the All Blacks’ form of late.
Should Ireland tip the All Blacks over in their upcoming three-test series, you imagine fans far and wide will rejoice.
But as I look at the venues selected to host the 2027 and 2031 Rugby World Cups, I can’t help feeling a pang or two on behalf of my fellow Kiwi battlers.
I can understand, even applaud, the idea of Australia being awarded the 2027 tournament by World Rugby, but I’m afraid I don’t see any justification for sending the following edition to the United States.
I get commerce and I get World Rugby’s entitlement to take these events wherever they like, but I’m disappointed that this potentially signals that we won’t see the sport’s pinnacle event staged on these shores again.
Yes, we’re little. Yes, we’re far away. And, yes, we probably can’t promise to return World Rugby a great dividend.
But New Zealand have been excellent Rugby World Cup hosts in the past and I honestly don’t get the idea of trying to take the game to new territories.
If those of us who are steeped in the sport often find the game itself confusing, you can bet your bottom dollar the Americans won’t have a clue what’s going on.
Rugby is a niche sport and there’s actually not a lot wrong with that. Few nations play it to a genuinely competitive level and, even in those countries that do, interest can be confined to private school types.
We’re not going to take the world over and, actually, I don’t even think we should try.
The United States are never going to be any good. Gary Gold, who is an excellent operator, coaches the national team now and we hear talk that Warren Gatland might do in the future.
You can have all the consultants and technical gurus you like, but if you don’t have the playing cattle you’ll never achieve anything. America doesn’t and no amount of World Cup-hosting rights will change that.
How about we actually look after the nations that do play and like the game, such as Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, rather than nations that never will?
That’s right, money.
If the football World Cup can go to Qatar, then rugby can go anywhere too. So long as the hosts are happy to pay.
Sure, the Fijian Drua are making up the numbers in Super Rugby Pacific. But do their fans care?
No, they just came out in their droves when the team finally got to play a game in Suva.
But those people, be they players or fans, aren’t important to World Rugby, because they can’t markedly improve the bottom line. Let’s throw money and resources at the United
States in the hope that rugby will one day become as popular as volleyball, lacrosse, bull riding or ten pin bowling.
Time and time again, rugby sells out its heartland. It alienates those it already has, in the hope of enticing somebody newer.
Take World Cups to America, China, Korea, Dubai, wherever you like. Just don’t be surprised or offended when folk in actual rugby nations lose heart and interest.
I’ve rarely been more proud to be a New Zealander, than when we hosted the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
To see the way fans in Palmerston North and Napier turned up to nothing games between nobody teams spoke volumes for our love of the game. To see the way supporters from Argentina, Ireland, Scotland and France were embraced said plenty about what a welcoming and tolerant country we can be when we try.
So many New Zealanders were invested in every step of that tournament because the game itself is so ingrained in our psyche. It’s part of the everyday rhythms and conversations of our lives and why world cups do so well here.
I’ll have to cherish those memories, because who knows if we’ll ever see the tournament here again.
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