Side Entry: RWC bid – losing not entirely a bad thing

Simnikiwe Xabanisa.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa.

Johannesburg - On Wednesday evening, South African rugby fans turned Twitter blue with righteous anger at being swindled out of hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Having been told a fortnight before that a World Rugby appointed independent body had declared theirs the best bid on the stuff that supposedly matters – facilities, commercial model, etc – imagine their horror a few days ago when the governing body’s general council acted as if the earlier recommendation was made by the tainted KPMG in voting France as the hosts.

Secret ballot

On the face of it South Africans had every right to their indignation because World Rugby went to the lengths of introducing a new and supposedly transparent way of deciding World Cup hosts, only for the result to still hinge on a Fifa-esque secret ballot.

The SA bid chiefs have learnt a few valuable lessons from the process, like don’t believe everything you read; don’t advise the other contestants to withdraw from the race based on a preliminary recommendation and don’t pop the champers until you’ve actually won.

But as aggrieved as everyone will be for the next week or so – actually there were a few Saffers openly tweeting their celebrations at the snub – I can’t help but feel not getting the 2023 World Cup isn’t entirely a bad thing, both for SA Rugby and the country.

For a while now, we’ve relied almost solely on the fading charm of the “Rainbow Nation” to get us over the line in bids like these without necessarily having our house in working order.

Paper over cracks

Some will point out that South Africa won the technical assessment part of the bid, but is there anyone who can argue against the fact that there are so many things wrong with our rugby and country right now?

Despite hosting the 1995 World Cup and winning it, and emerging victorious again in 2007, the game in the country is broke, transformation remains a foreign concept and Springbok performances are in steady decline.

If winning it twice before has done little for the game’s bank balance, strengthening the tenuous unity in its ranks and failed to improve our elite performances, why do we think bidding for another World Cup will suddenly paper over those cracks?

The fact that we live in a country that has all but had its future sold by its leaders emphasises the borderline obscenity of bidding for yet another vanity project so soon after a 2010 Soccer World Cup which left a questionable legacy and the humiliation of failing to win the one-horse race that was bidding for the (cheaper) 2022 Commonwealth Games.

At this juncture many will pull out the stats from the Grant Thornton economic impact assessment saying that hosting the World Cup would have brought R27.3-billion in direct, indirect and induced economic impact and sustain 38 600 (temporary and permanent) annual jobs as reason for why winning the bid would have been good for the country.

Bidding rights

But shouldn’t it jar with us that the government roped in to stand surety for the hefty guarantees demanded by World Rugby threatens its economy by changing its finance minister every other week, runs national assets into the ground and fails to empower its poor with a decent education?

And with downgrades in our economy (and here junk status comes to mind) how sure can we be that we’ll be good for those promised guarantees to World Rugby in six years’ time anyway?

Former Springbok flyhalf Joel Stransky accused World Rugby of being an “old boys’ club” in his immediate reaction to France making off with the bidding rights.

It was an ironic choice of words because few gatherings scream old boys’ club like SA Rugby does, so why would an exclusive organisation seen to be reluctant to transform be allowed access to the taxes of the same majority it marginalises in its game?

For too long in this country we’ve pretended to solve problems by dazzling everyone with the giddy anticipation of hosting one major event or another.

It’s time we recognised that it is not the job of World Cups and such other major events to bring stability to sporting codes and countries, rather stability makes hosting those things easier.

Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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