RWC 2023: What gives South Africa the edge?

After digesting the hefty ‘Host Selection Process Evaluation Report’, World Rugby’s board has given South Africa’s bid its backing for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The report offers unparalleled transparency, looks into the minutiae of Ireland, France and South Africa’s bids and comes to the conclusion that based on five criteria, there is one host who offers the best proposal to host rugby’s biggest tournament.

South Africa finished top with a score of 78.97 percent across the five barometers while France were next on 75.88 percent and Ireland last with 72.25 percent.

France are now billing this as a two-horse race between their bid and South Africa’s but all three have until Nov. 15 to convince World Rugby’s council that their proposal offers the best financial and reliable option for 2023.

A total of 39 votes will be cast in just over a fortnight, when the hosts will be confirmed, but the council will take into account the report’s findings across the five criteria: vision and hosting; tournament organisation and schedule; venues and host cities; tournament infrastructure; finance, commercial and commitments.

South Africa’s proposition was formed around what they termed a triple-win bid — “a win for the sport, the supporters and most importantly a win for the players” — but the overarching theme here underpinning what the report was looking for was guarantees.

The report stated that its aim was to ensure the best host is chosen so that “continued growth and development of rugby around the world is secured”.

South Africa’s proven track record of hosting major tournaments and having eight ready-made, top-class stadia marks them out alongside putting together a financial package which has few loopholes.

It is efficient and rooted in examples from recent sporting history but it was not plain sailing for them in the report. France and Ireland still have time to launch a charm offensive but here are the headlines which led World Rugby’s board to back the South African option.

Vision and hosting concept

France scored best overall here with a bid focused on using the World Cup to accelerate social change and experience of hosting big tournaments in the past like Euro 2016 and the widespread impact the Paris 2024 Olympics will have on the nation.

The report was also a fan of a vision that included paper-free accreditation, an app to capture and bring together photographs from the tournament and provision of braille facilities at the ground.

Ireland’s bid offered the most creative concept, utilising their diaspora to bring together a World Cup on a global scale of approximately 70 million fans.

The report commended their links with GAA but said the North American aspect of their bid needed further investigation.

South Africa’s bid was deemed the least creative, but across the five criteria listed above, this conversely played into their favour as it is a bid “founded on achievability firmly orientated around a world class rugby competition in a mature rugby market, delivering commercial, fan and facility certainty”.

Tournament organisation and schedule

South Africa came out top here, but the weighting of this criteria makes up just five percent of the overall mark. Their experience of hosting football’s 2010 World Cup bolstered their claims while having the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour also played into their favour.

The report also said World Rugby need not be concerned by Durban being stripped of the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Ireland’s lack of experience in hosting large-scale tournaments saw them finish last while there are concerns put forward around the “business and operational” impact of the 2024 Paris Olympics on France’s bid.

The report also states that having the Olympics just a year after the World Cup — like they have got with Tokyo in 2020 and the Japan World Cup in 2019 — could create a “a situation where RWC as an event has less prominence in public awareness and perception”.

The report also raised concerns over the Ligue 1’s schedule with France’s top flight football teams potentially needing their grounds for domestic and Champions League matches.

Venues and host cities

Carrying a 30 percent portion of the overall recommendation, South Africa came out clear winners here with Ireland last. South Africa’s bid “exceeded expectations” with major event experience aiding their “eight world-class venues” which would be ready tomorrow to host major matches.

France’s bid boasts exceptional venues but “due to a lack of clarity over pitch dimensions”, there is a concern these could impact on player welfare.

With Ireland, their bid includes a number of stadia requiring work and therefore represents a “higher risk than venues already at world-class standard”, according to the report. The recent hurry-up for Japan, whose preparations are behind schedule, would have also played on World Rugby’s mind.

Tournament infrastructure

This carries a 20 percent slice of the overall score and brings in security, accommodation, transport, technology system, rugby services and the ticketing strategy for each of the bids.

South Africa scored highest overall with security ranked level across the board, with each focusing on different aspects whether it be international terrorism or localised crime.

Transport saw Ireland lag behind South Africa and France’s proposals to utilise domestic flights and the SNCF, respectively, as their methods to ferry fans and players around the country.

The report had doubts over St Etienne’s capability of offering enough accommodation in France’s bid, while Ireland’s was marked down on account of some venues being reliant on adjacent cities for accommodation.

France’s lack of a rugby-focus in their tournament medical programme proved costly, while the report also had other concerns, saying “in the anti-doping area there is a potential risk related to the criminality of anti-doping violations in France”.

The three bids scored equally across ticketing. South Africa’s proposal of basing pool matches in one localised area fared well, but Ireland’s main downfall here was on technology.

The report stated Ireland’s technological side of the bid — including Wi-Fi and the like — saw “all but two venues” fall below the required level, posting a “significant risk factor”.

Finance, commercial and commitments

Much of this section was redacted due to commercially sensitive information but this was dominated overall by France.

While South Africa scored highly on their guarantee for the tournament fee — offering £160m to France’s £150m and Ireland’s £120m — they scored lowest on commercial programme values and a secure economic and political landscape.

Ireland boasted the best score for a tournament budget while France’s bid — one which they put an overall figure of €500m on — saw them come top on the commercial programme values.

So it is on these five criteria, and security of bid that saw South Africa secure the World Rugby board’s nomination for who should host the 2023 World Cup.

Ireland were long seen as favourites, but their lack of big tournament experience and ready-made venues has seen them fall down the pecking order, while France have to convince World Rugby the 2024 Olympics will not overshadow matters, and other sports will not hog the spotlight while the tournament’s on.

Bernard Laporte, the FFR, has vowed to fight until Nov. 15 to convince the council France is the right option, while Ireland say they will “compete to the final minute” and that Tuesday’s announcement is “not the end of the world”.

This is a new process and step for World Rugby. Never before has it published this independent report and recommendation; it is also potentially a first across all major sporting tournaments.

All three candidates agreed to this process, and understood the weight of this report when it comes to voting. France and Ireland now have two weeks to allay doubts, and convince the council otherwise, but South Africa are now in pole position to host rugby’s biggest tournament in 2023.