Rugby World Cup braces for possibility of typhoon


A typhoon that scored a direct hit on Tokyo with less than two weeks before the start of the Rugby World Cup had only a “minor” impact on preparations, organizers said.

Typhoon Faxai, which pummeled the Kanto area early Sept. 9 with record winds and torrential rain, reignited concerns about the potential impact of extreme weather on the seven-week World Cup that kicks off this Friday.

Organizing committee spokesman Nicholas Van Santen said that an initial evaluation found “some minor impact on venues and team camps.”

Some teams, notably the Australian, were delayed in their arrival while England and their coach Eddie Jones also experienced some minor typhoon-related delays. There were also small changes to the schedules of the arriving Tongan and Georgian teams.

On the other hand, France managed to sneak in just before the onset of Faxai while three-time champion New Zealand arrived later Sept. 9 after the storm had moved out to sea.

Van Santen said organizers monitored the typhoon closely and analyzed it with the tournament’s weather information providers and relevant Japanese authorities.

“We are working closely with the teams concerned to minimize any impact from these delays,” he said.

Typhoon Faxai, one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall close to Tokyo, killed at least three people and injured dozens in addition to causing travel chaos during the Tokyo area’s notoriously packed morning commute.

The disruption reignited questions about contingency planning for the Rugby World Cup.

Here are some key questions as one of the world’s natural disaster hot spots prepares to host one of the world’s biggest sporting events:

What happens if a match is called off?

The regulations vary depending on whether the match affected is during the pool stages or the knock-out phase.

According to section three of World Rugby’s tournament rules for Japan 2019: “Where a pool match cannot be commenced on the day in which it is scheduled, it shall not be postponed to the following day, and shall be considered as canceled.

“In such situations, the result shall be declared a draw and teams will be allocated two match points each and no score registered.”

With the tournament being hailed as one of the most evenly balanced ever, this could have a dramatic impact on the initial phase.

However, from the quarterfinals onward there is some wiggle room.

“Where a knockout match cannot be commenced on the scheduled match day, it will be considered as postponed, and will be rescheduled to be played within the two days following the scheduled match day, or such longer period as determined by RWCL (Rugby World Cup Ltd.),” the regulations state.

Could typhoons affect the World Cup?

The tournament — especially the early stage — is being played during prime typhoon season.

Faxai, the 15th named tropical storm of the year, had some impact on team preparations, as the Wallabies were forced to delay their arrival in Japan. France managed to touch down in Tokyo just before the storm hit.

Typhoons are not the only worry.

Japan is one of the most seismically active countries on Earth and tournament organizers are also bracing for the possibility of an earthquake disrupting the schedule.

How are organizers preparing?

According to tournament director Alan Gilpin, contingency planning has been a huge part of the pre-competition activity.

“Our view is that you can plan for it,” Gilpin said in an interview earlier this year. “You’ve just got to make sure you’ve worked through all those different permutations.

“We’ve got to be ready for the ‘what ifs.’ We’ve got contingency venue plans if we lose a venue to an earthquake or any kind of issue, (or) if we lose a major transport hub — because it’s not just about venues.”

How are teams preparing?

England coach Eddie Jones, who would be familiar with Japan’s extreme weather as a former coach of the Brave Blossoms, has been quoted as saying there is “no doubt” typhoons will have an impact on the World Cup.

He said his team will train indoors on artificial turf if weather conditions prevent the athletes from practicing outdoors.

Aside from training, a major issue could be transporting the 20 teams and their fans around the 12 venues spread among the Japanese archipelago.

Dozens of flights and bullet trains were canceled during Typhoon Faxai and large parts of the Tokyo train network were also shut down, causing chaos on the Sept. 9 morning commute.

Should fans be worried?

While there is a non-negligible risk of a typhoon or an earthquake striking at some point during the seven-week Rugby World Cup, fans should be comforted by the fact that Japan is extremely well set up and resilient to natural disasters.

Even with record rains and winds battering Tokyo, the world’s most populous metropolitan area, fatalities were relatively few, most injuries were light and the damage to buildings and infrastructure was fairly minor.

Buildings and transport networks are designed to withstand major earthquakes. Temblors with a magnitude that would destroy many cities result in a jolt but limited damage.

Authorities have worked hard to upgrade early warning systems and information channels in the event of a natural disaster to make sure they are available in English.

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