South African rugby - indeed the game in Africa - needs the lifeblood of hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Forget the Durban 2022 Commonwealth Games fiasco that paraded as a disaster on every front and get behind a Rugby World Cup that simply must be in South Africa - and by extension Africa.
The game’s future in South Africa will positively be influenced if this country plays host to rugby’s greatest show for a second time.
To those who were around in 1995, it’s the easiest sell.
For those who weren’t or whose memories have been dulled because of indifferent Springbok and Super Rugby results, don’t confuse being momentarily disillusioned with the Springboks as a reason to shun the chance to host the World Cup or to appreciate the enormous gains for South African Rugby and South Africa (as a country) if the eyes of the world are on yet another South African hosting sporting success story.
This country’s sporting stadiums are magnificent. The people, when it comes to sport in this country, are magnificent. The manner in which 2010’s Soccer World Cup played out was magnificent.
South African rugby, back in 1995, benefitted because of Nelson Mandela’s incredible gesture in embracing the Springboks, the jersey as being representative of a unified South Africa and because of the Springboks winning the title.
Rugby, back in 1995, spoke primarily to a demographic minority but by 2023 it will be a game that is all South African in player and spectator appeal. It has to speak to everyone.
The game’s transformation since international readmission in 1992 has never been at an acceptable pace and it’s been a crime that so many within the game have resisted the obvious evolution for so long.
But the gains are being made, if not as fast as I’d want them to be made. I know I’m not alone in being as angered as I have been saddened over how often the sport’s national appeal tends to go one step forward and two back because of agendas.
I know we can get it right in this country when it comes to rugby. I know the support is there, the passion is there and the players and intellectual capital is there to make the Springboks a world leader again.
There has to be belief in the game and that somehow the universe will connect the dots to give the game a strong leadership and a sporting cause in which to once again unite South Africans and give them belief as to what is possible in this country of ours.
I have been blessed to experience the 1995 World Cup and the emotional surge for South Africans and for the country. Equally I was blessed to be here for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and in New Zealand for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
It’s been too long between drinks for South Africa and World Cups.
France makes as compelling a bid as South Africa, in terms of their track record when it comes to hosting Rugby and Soccer World Cups. The French, like us, put on a show of the highest order in 2007.
Ireland, in making up the bidding trio, are strong and there will be a lot of goodwill and emotion as to why Ireland should exclusively be given the right to host its first World Cup.
The counter to both France and Ireland is that it would mean a third successive World Cup being hosted in the Northern Hemisphere. France hosted the bulk of the 2007 World Cup and a 2027 French Rugby World Cup seems more plausible.
South Africa, if it fails again, will not easily get the chance again.
The country’s politicians, sporting leadership and patriotic people must unite behind rugby’s bid because it would be the right thing for South Africa. This has to be about the collective good of hosting a sport specific World Cup.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup was the biggest sporting event of the year. South Africa won’t again get soccer’s biggest prize, the Summer Olympics is not an option if it was deemed too excessive an expense to financially guarantee a Commonwealth Games and cricket’s World Cup doesn’t have rugby’s expanding global rugby appeal.
The Rugby World Cup in South Africa is bigger than the Springboks and bigger than any individual within the South African game.
Commercially, it will be an injection to the South African economy and to the sport in this country. It will also ensure the sport’s profile and add to the need for South Africa to be the leader of innovation in expanding rugby on the African continent.
The rugby people must want it because of the light it offers to our rugby and to our nation amid the daily strife, struggles and strains.
The seven priority objectives for RWC 2023 are:
* Venues and infrastructure commensurate with a top-tier major event
* Comprehensive and enforceable public and private sector guarantees
* A commercially successful event with a fully funded, robust financial model
* Operational excellence through an integrated and experienced delivery team
* A vision that engages and inspires domestic and international audiences and contributes to the growth of rugby at all levels
* An enabling environment of political and financial stability that respects the diversity of Rugby World Cup’s global stakeholders
* An environment and climate suited to top-level sport in a geography that allows maximum fan mobility
* As part of their submission, the unions are also required to supply World Rugby with an overview of key tournament deliverables such as finance, venues and intended government support.
South Africa’s bid team can tick most boxes but the most important is unconditional government sanction, which currently isn’t there because of rugby’s failure to be true to transformation since 1992.
Transformation is - and always has been - non negotiable to the sport’s growth and future. The agenda based games must stop if rugby is to have a future and a global audience is to again enjoy the magnificence of a World Cup Final played out at the immensely impressive FNB Stadium.
#SouthAfrica2023 should be what motivates every decision in and relevant to South African rugby. Spread the news because hosting #RWC2023 will be a victory for the country - not just rugby.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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