More Sports / Rugby

Four years early, Rugby World Cup organizers launch kickoff in Tokyo

by Rich Freeman

Kyodo

The eyes of the rugby world may be on World Cup 2015, which kicks off in England in 65 days, but for 12 cities in Japan sights are set a little further ahead as they marked the official kickoff of Rugby World Cup 2019 in Tokyo on Wednesday.

“This is an opportunity to congratulate the 12 cities that were chosen in March to be hosts and for them to get together and start planning for a successful tournament,” said Koji Tokumasu, the general manager of Rugby World Cup 2019 Organizing Committee.

While this may have been the official launch, the tournament has rarely been out of the news the last few weeks following revelations that the new National Stadium, which is set to host the opening game and final, will run well over budget.

There was no official mention of the problems surrounding the stadium at the news conference, though after the formal proceedings, Akira Shimazu, CEO of the local organizing committee, did answer a few questions on the issue.

“It was us that (first) proposed the new stadium and it was us that selected the new stadium (for use in 2019),” he said. “We decided on the 12 venues and we decided on Tokyo.”

When asked whether the 12 host cities had discussed the issue that day, Shimazu replied they hadn’t, even though one of the biggest opponents of the new stadium — Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe — was elected that morning chairman of the Rugby World Cup 2019 host city/local government congress.

“There is no alternative plan,” said Shimazu. “We believe the stadium will be built in time.”

And by that he means May 2019, as he pointed out the first game of the tournament couldn’t be the first event in the new stadium.

“We need to run rehearsals and test events. We need the stadium to be constructed by May at the latest,” he said.

Earlier, the formal part of proceedings saw representatives of the 12 cities and their respective prefectures (all wearing the new Japan rugby jersey) receive commemorative rugby balls in front of a plethora of Japan Rugby Football Union officials and Diet members.

“This is the first time everyone has been in the same place at the same time,” said Fujio Mitarai, president of the organizing committee. “I hope everyone remembers the rugby spirit of ‘all for one, one for all,’ and unites for one goal. Rugby World Cup can be used as a foundation for people in Japan to participate in a sporting event and with the Tokyo Olympics the following year, we must make it a success.”

Latest estimates from World Rugby suggest as many as 400,000 foreigners could make the trip to Japan, the first time the Rugby World Cup will be held outside an established rugby nation, and Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Sanae Takaichi reminded everyone of the economic benefits of hosting the world’s third biggest sporting event.

“I have talked to a few people and they have told me one of the big aspects of the tournament is the time between games. That allows visitors to go out and spend time in the host cities and travel,” she said.

“That’s very unique, and we as a government will do all we can to support the host cities to make sure they have a successful tournament and get as much out of it as they can.”