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Rugby chief fears Olympics leaving 2019 World Cup in shade

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

World Rugby chief Brett Gosper admits he is concerned that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are shunting the 2019 Rugby World Cup into the shadows just three years before Japan hosts the event.

“I do think it’s important that we remind the people of Japan that there are two very, very big events that will be arriving in this country, and not just one which is the Olympics,” Gosper told reporters in Tokyo on Friday after completing a weeklong review of tournament preparations with Rugby World Cup officials and the local organizing committee.

“What’s important is that people realize that the Rugby World Cup is probably the third-biggest event on the planet after the Olympics and FIFA World Cup. And it is every bit as big and involving a sporting event as the Olympics for the entire population, because of the different centers where rugby will be played around the country.”

Asia’s first-ever Rugby World Cup will kick off at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium on Sept. 20, 2019, with games being played at 12 stadiums around Japan for six weeks before the Nov. 2 final in Yokohama.

Local media coverage of preparations for the tournament has paled in comparison with the headlines being generated by the 2020 Olympics, but Gosper believes the Rugby World Cup will bring significant benefits to Japan including a $2.5 billion boost to the economy.

“This is an event for the whole of Japan,” said Gosper. “Japan 2019 will be an event where 75 percent of the population will be within one hour of every match. There will be significant economic, social and sporting benefits beyond just one city. Every host city and prefecture will have a role to play, and the rewards are extensive.

“Over a six-week period, the tournament will attract around 400,000 high-spending visitors and could sustain up to 40,000 jobs. The early conservative estimates are that this will create $2.5 billion in economic activity for the whole nation over the period.”

Gosper described preparations for the tournament as being “on track and on budget,” and Rugby World Cup head Alan Gilpin is satisfied with the local organizing committee’s efforts.

“There are some areas where progress is very advanced, and some parts that are very much still in the planning stage,” said Gilpin. “But overall we’re very satisfied with the progress that’s been made, and we continue to work closely and ever more closely with our colleagues in Japan.

“It’s about us bringing international major event experience in and learning how that can be best interpreted to deliver a fantastic tournament here in Japan. It is a very unique place to deliver that sort of event.”

World Rugby earlier this week announced an agreement with Japanese advertising giant Dentsu Inc., which gives the firm marketing rights in Japan for the 2019 World Cup with regards to official sponsors and tournament suppliers.

“They are obviously experts in this market, allowing the possibility for many Japanese firms to get involved with Japan 2019,” said Gosper. “It’s great for those companies, great for the amplification of sport in this country, and great for the JRFU (Japan Rugby Football Union) as well. It’s also good for the tournament because we have many Japanese firms activating on the ground here in Japan before and during the tournament.”

World Rugby was undertaking its third review of tournament preparations this week in Japan, and local organizing committee chief Akira Shimazu is happy with the state of progress.

“If you think of it as a 400-meter race, the stage we are at now is around the first corner,” said Shimazu. “In other words, all aspect of our preparations are underway. The small details are still to come. There are still some things to work on with the stadiums, but we will take that on and work toward that.”

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