Kyoto will host the draw for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in May next year, tournament organizers announced on Thursday.
Although the exact location has yet to be decided, organizers suggested that a temple or shrine in Japan’s ancient capital could even provide the setting to decide the schedule of the 20-team tournament, the first to be held in Asia.
“The pool draw has become an event in itself in recent years,” World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper told reporters at the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences in Tokyo.
“As it was in London last time, it is an opportunity to show off the host country and excite potential fans, particularly overseas fans, about the prospect of visiting Japan. And therefore a place like Kyoto is very appropriate for that, to build that excitement.”
The draw, which Gosper described as taking place “as late as possible” to accommodate ticket sales, will be held two years and four months before the tournament kicks off at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium on Sept. 20, 2019.
Organizers of the 2015 competition in England came under fire for staging their draw almost three years before the first ball was kicked. The draw for that tournament used a world ranking-based system that paired three teams — Australia, England and Wales — that had climbed to Nos. 2, 3 and 4 in the world by the time the competition began.
“In the past we have used the world rankings at the time of the pool allocation draw to draw the four pools of five teams,” said Rugby World Cup head Alan Gilpin.
“That has served us well but we will also look over the coming months at any alternatives that provide excitement and a great match schedule without harming the integrity of the world rankings. We will look at all options.”
The 2015 Rugby World Cup smashed attendance records with over 2.47 million tickets sold for the six-week tournament, and a crowd of 89,267 packing Wembley Stadium to watch Ireland take on Romania during the group stage.
Only 34,073 fans turned out to watch Japan play Scotland at Ajinomoto Stadium last Saturday, but Gosper believes attendances will continue to grow over the next three years.
“It’s a very different context,” said the Australian. “We are very encouraged by that crowd. We think it was a good attendance and a good indicator in the growing interest in rugby since the last Rugby World Cup.
“Often people cite lower club attendances here but we’ve seen them grow very strongly. People forget that even in countries like France and England, the average crowd for a club game is between 15,000-20,000. All the indicators to us are toward the growing interest in this sport in Japan. We’re encouraged and optimistic about ticket sales.”
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko were among the Ajinomoto Stadium crowd as they took in a national team game for the first time, and 2019 organizing committee CEO Akira Shimazu took their presence as a positive sign.
“There are things for us to learn and from now on we must make more of an effort to bring in fans,” said Shimazu. “We have to think about what needs to be done to bring in a full house.
“But the Imperial Couple came to watch a game for the first time in Tokyo last weekend and that is very encouraging.”