PARIS — The 2007 Rugby World Cup is about to finish, but the festivities on the Parisian streets have kept alive the event’s momentum.
The tournament that International Rugby Board chairman Syd Millar dubbed “the best World Cup ever” raised the bar for future hosts. It also provided a good lesson for 2011 host New Zealand and 2015 bidder Japan with important examples of what can be achieved outside the rugby grounds.
“The population of France have joined in to make this a marvelous occasion,” said Millar. “This justifies our decision to give France the World Cup. Attendance is well up and we are breaking records.”
Attendance at the stadiums and TV ratings are the highest in the history of the tournament. However, what France achieved most of all, is to bring its local communities, local businesses and regional cultures within close proximity to the games.
In true French style, the Eiffel Tower itself turned into a rugby goalpost, with a giant rugby ball placed in its middle, while several regional museums provided exhibitions and workshops on rugby culture, beyond the narrow scope of the actual game.
The city of Montpellier, which hosted the Wallabies team, also took the opportunity to establish business links with Australian entrepreneurs via workshops carefully planned years before the event.
Fine artists also expressed their enthusiasm of the sport. The ballet troupe of Aix-en-Provence, a small city that hosted the All Blacks in the pool stages, performed a ballet version of the haka at their Pavillion Noir in front of the appreciative players, while 10 painters organized an exhibition near the Stade de France with equal success.
“The oval (shape of the rugby ball), for me is a way of expressing the joy, the fight and the friendship in the game” said exhibiting artist and former rugby player Gerard Lesoeur. “A number of important artists treat the theme of rugby these days. The reason for this is that the images of the game and the associated values of this sport — the play, the festivity, the colors, the sportsmanship — they open up a lot of creativity.”
The spectators themselves shared in these values. In contrast to soccer mega events, where hooliganism can cause its problems, the rugby crowd proved to be a gentle giant.
“There have been no hassles, no problems, no arrests,” Millar said. “I think that in Marseille the crowd were trying to get the gendarmes to scrum for them.”
Even after one of the most intense games of the tournament, the All Blacks’ 18-20 loss to France in Cardiff, on Oct. 6, where the streets of Cardiff were closed off from traffic to accommodate thousands of after-game partyers, there were no atrocities reported. Party-goers were seen patting the horses of cordial Welsh police troopers in the early hours. The next morning, the streets were immaculately clean and traffic resumed without difficulty.
“The French were very gracious winners, they kept apologizing,” said Brian Olliver, who traveled from Taranaki province in New Zealand to the tournament. “There were not many New Zealanders out on the streets; most of them spent a quiet night. We were just shocked. Many of us actually cried.”
What Japanese police would rather need to prepare is a sense of humor, when dealing with the occasional nude streakers, who enter the fields from time to time as it happened at the Fiji-Australia game at La Mosson Stadium, Montpellier, on Sept. 23.