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2019 Rugby World Cup chiefs refuse to rule out host nation switch

by Rich Freeman

Kyodo

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper confirmed Thursday that the 2019 Rugby World Cup could be moved to South Africa if Japan does not provide assurances by the end of this month that it will be able to successfully host the tournament.

Speaking to South Africa’s EyeWitness News from London, Gosper said that no formal discussions have taken place yet. But it would be a strange business practice if World Rugby had not already started talks over a possible replacement for Japan, whose plans were thrown into disarray following the loss of Tokyo’s new National Stadium as a venue for the tournament after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe scrapped the original plans.

“There haven’t been any discussions with SA Rugby in itself,” Gosper told EyeWitness News. “Obviously, in the unlikely event that there was an issue in Japan, it would make sense that the first people you would consult would be the other two contenders at the time, which were Italy and South Africa.”

Last week a report on the SuperSport website claimed that South African Rugby Union chief executive Jurie Roux had held secret meetings with World Rugby to ascertain South Africa’s readiness to step in, should Japan be unable to produce a revised venue plan and appropriate financial security.

“Following a detailed analysis of the impact of the Japanese government’s disappointing decision to remove the new National Stadium from the inventory of Rugby World Cup 2019 venues, World Rugby has set out a revised road map for the Japan Rugby 2019 Organizing Committee to deliver key assurances regarding the successful delivery of the tournament,” the sport’s governing body said last week in a press release, giving Japan Rugby 2019 until the end of September to come up with a new plan.

Loss of ticket sales and merchandising revenue from having to play key games at a smaller stadium are at the heart of the issue, and there are some who believe World Rugby want Japan Rugby to cut a couple of smaller venues to ensure pool games are played at larger grounds.

Akira Shimazu, CEO of the local organizing committee, was adamant however that Japan would retain the 12 host cities it announced back in March.

Gosper, for his part, remained optimistic that Japan would be able to meet the new requirements.

“I’m extremely confident that the Japanese will come up with a contingency that will satisfy our requirements,” Gosper told EyeWitness News. “But Rugby World Cup’s are so important for World Rugby that we have to be absolutely sure of the certainty of our revenue streams flowing from that problem that we’ve had with the National Stadium leaving. We’re confident that they’ll sort that, they have until the end of September, and the indications that we’re getting is that we’ll have those reassurances that we require.”

Following last week’s win over Georgia in Gloucester, England, Brave Blossoms coach Eddie Jones warned of the consequences of taking RWC 2019 off Japan.

“To have a World Cup in an Asian country is wonderful for the sport,” Jones said. “If they did lose it, it would be disastrous. It could be the end of Japan as an international rugby country.”

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