LONDON – World Rugby took a risk awarding Japan the hosting of the 2019 Rugby World Cup but it has turned out to be a great decision Brett Gosper, CEO of the sport’s governing body, told AFP.
The 60-year-old Australian added announcing two World Cup hosts as they did back in 2009, England won the right for the 2015 edition, should be something the World Rugby board considers doing on a permanent basis in the future.
Gosper — speaking to AFP with just under 50 days to go to Japan playing Russia in the opening match on Sept. 20 in the sport’s quadrennial showpiece — said it had been a courageous decision to go outside the sport’s heartlands in awarding Asia the continent’s first hosting of the tournament.
Japan saw off competition from South Africa and Italy.
“World Rugby made a bold decision and as it turned out one of its soundest and great decisions,” said Gosper, who has been in his post since 2012.
“They took a risk with Japan but it seems to be working out extremely positively.
“The decision by World Rugby to award two World Cup hostings at the same time is something that should be considered by the board for the future.
“You can be strategic because by nominating England for the 2015 edition — relatively low risk with promise of high returns — gave us the time and the assurance to delve into the uncharted territory of Japan hosting the tournament.”
Gosper, whose own rugby playing career included time with the flamboyant French side Racing 92 renowned for turning out in pink bow ties and toasting each other on the pitch with a glass of champagne, points to both ticket sales and the level of interest within Japan as evidence of the wisdom of awarding it to them.
“The ticket sales are exceptional,” he said.
“Five and a half million applications is a record for a Rugby World Cup — ahead of England (in 2015), while we have sold more than 85 percent of tickets with one sales phase left to go on Aug. 10, which is a great place to be.
“I would love to say that we knew this would be the case all along, but it was us asking the hosts are you going to fill the stadia and in fact it was the least of their concerns.
“The Japanese love big events, they really buy into them and they are definitely proving that.”
A domestic record for a rugby match on television is expected to be set with an anticipated 40 million viewers due to watch the host’s match with Russia and Gosper believes interest will not dip even if Japan bows out in the pool stage.
“We had a trial run in England in 2015 when the host did not get through,” he said drily.
“By that stage we are entering the knockout rounds so interest is heightened in any case.
“The Japanese are excellent hosts and they will get behind all the teams, while a third of the tickets have been sold to foreigners in any case.”
Gosper says the legacy will be judged in key areas such as widening rugby’s appeal and increasing the numbers playing it in Asia.
“The growth in the fan base — presently 330 million — generally grows by 10 percent during a World Cup,” he said.
“The World Cup over six weeks we would be looking at adding 20-30 million which falls back afterward.
“However, we would be looking to keep 7-10 percent of those on with past experience, the growth areas being Germany, India and China.
“This one we would hope for particular interest from Malaysia and Indonesia,” Gosper said.
Gosper is especially encouraged having exceeded the target of getting one million new participants playing rugby in Asia.
“The key now is retention,” he said.
“The World Cup focuses minds on mass participation whether it be touch rugby or schools.
“Obviously if every school child in Japan turned up one morning wanting to play rugby we might have a problem!
“However, we have definitely sparked real interest in playing the game which was a major goal.”