Tokyo marks one-year countdown to 2019 Rugby World Cup

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Rugby officials emphasized that the first Rugby World Cup in Asian would be a “game changer” that could bring the game to the next phase.

Speaking at a One-Year To Go Festival event at Tokyo’s Meiji Kinenkan, World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said that “history will be made” when Japan faces Russia in the tournament opener at Tokyo Stadium on Sept. 20, 2019, as it will be “the first time the World Cup will be played” outside of the traditional major rugby countries.

Beaumont added that the 2019 World Cup in Japan would be a “catalyst” and “innovative” tournament that would be expected to “inspire new audiences and participants across Asia and beyond joining the rugby family.”

World Rugby, the sport’s global governing body, has launched an “Asia One Million” project with an objective to increase the participating players for the game to that figure by 2020. Beaumont said that the organization has already been “80 percent on our way to achieve” that goal.

“In fact, we have (had) 200,000 new players in Japan alone,” Beaumont said. “Our ambition to break the one million mark will be fulfilled well before the (World Cup) starts. It would be an incredible achievement.”

Jamie Joseph, the Japan national team head coach, said: “I’m very excited about the World Cup. It will be a great opportunity for our country to host the World Cup. It will be a great opportunity to showcase the culture and the county and we are unbelievably excited.”

Joseph’s Brave Blossoms, who will face Russia, Ireland, Scotland and Samoa in Pool A, have set a goal of reaching the tournament quarterfinals.

Fujio Mitarai, the chairman of the 2019 Rugby World Cup organizing committee, said that the committee has held events to promote the World Cup on the dates to mark 1,000 days, two years and 500 days until the tourney, yet the one-year mark is “the most important” because it would start the final countdown in earnest.

“Thanks to all these promotional activities, we have had more application for tickets than we possibly imagined,” said Mitarai, chairman and CEO of Canon, Inc., while also serving as an honorable chairman of Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation).

The initial priority ballot ticket sales began in January and the general ticket sales ballot application period started on Wednesday. The latter will continue until Nov. 12.

There has reportedly been unprecedented demand for the tickets so far.

Mitarai said that there has also been a “great amount” of donations from individuals and companies.

“So there will be big economic impact and the expectations for the World Cup in Japan will be even higher,” Mitarai said.

While noting that tournament will be staged in Asia for the first time, Mitarai insisted that there will be a wave of people arriving here for the extravaganza next autumn. He added that the organizing committee would have to make sure it will be as prepared as it can be.

To celebrate the one-year mark until the historic World Cup, all 12 host cities across the nation — from Sapporo to Kumamoto — are hosting events like Thursday’s in Tokyo.

Daisuke Ohata, a former Japan national team star wing and World Rugby Hall of Famer, said that like in many other sports, the World Cup is the premier stage for rugby and hosting it in Japan is “extremely meaningful.”

“We have a very good chance to make our sport a truly global sport,” he added.

Meanwhile, World Rugby has issued an unprecedented request for participating teams at the World Cup, asking them to cover up tattoos at public facilities such as hotels, pools and gyms. Tattoos are closely associated with organized crime in the country, although acceptance has risen in recent years due to an influx of foreign travelers with ink.

World Cup CEO Brett Gosper said that the organization understands “the cultural sensitivity.” He insisted that the players are “respectful” about the decision, suggesting it would not be much of an issue.