Thulas Nxesi. Picture GALLO IMAGES
Thulas Nxesi. Picture GALLO IMAGES

In the sweltering heat of a stuffy conference room at Parliament, Sport and Recreation Minister Thulas Nxesi, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander and CE Jurie Roux looked more relieved than elated that SA was chosen as the preferred candidate to host Rugby World Cup 2023.

There is still one more hurdle to clear — the official vote on November 15 — and although it should be a formality, there was an air of caution after SA’s bid was deemed the best submitted to an independent bid evaluation committee on June 1.

The 827-page, 8.2kg bid book scored 79% against the committee’s six weighted criteria – France was second on 76% and Ireland third with 72%.

“Based on the evaluation contained in this report, the candidate that scored the highest marks and is therefore deemed to be the optimal candidate to host Rugby World Cup 2023 is SA,” the report stated. “It is the recommendation of the Rugby World Cup Limited Board to World Rugby Council that SA should be awarded the right to host Rugby World Cup 2023.”

In theory, South Africans should start celebrating but even though everything has been done to ensure voting is transparent and untainted, SA sill needs at least 20 of the 39 World Rugby Council votes to ratify the evaluation committee’s recommendation. World Rugby, by embarking on a transparent bidding process, has all but ensured that when its members’ council votes in a little more than two weeks, SA’s bid will be ratified.

One of the major reasons why SA submitted a bid for the fourth consecutive time was that the bidding criteria was changed to eliminate the threat of horse trading when votes are cast.

“This was a rigorous and objective process which we have supported from day one and we thank World Rugby for instituting a process that took lobbying out of the equation and professionally identified which host would deliver the best tournament for players, fans and the game,” Roux said.

“We trust now that the World Rugby Council will follow through by voting to confirm what the experts have identified: that a South African Rugby World Cup in 2023 is the best result for rugby.”

Ireland, though, have vowed to continue the fight until voting day, although it is unclear what more it can do to change the outcome. “There is nothing in the report which is insurmountable and this is certainly not the end of the road,” Ireland bid chairman Dick Spring said.

“We absolutely believe Ireland can secure the tournament for 2023. It is also clear from the report that Ireland has all the capabilities to host an outstanding Rugby World Cup in 2023.”

Alexander believes that the council will do the right thing by simply rubber-stamping an independent recommendation that cost World Rugby more than R8m to produce.

“What is the point if the council doesn’t vote according to the outcome? Then we are no further along than we were years ago and all that money spent on this evaluation would have been a waste,” Alexander said.

Nxesi said celebrations would have to wait until it was official that SA was the host.

“We have to celebrate this first step and it’s a great and historic day for the nation, for sport and for rugby, but remember, we have not actually won the bid yet,” Nxesi said.

Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby chairman said: “This is the first Rugby World Cup host selection to take place following a complete redesign of the bidding process to promote greater transparency and maximise World Rugby’s hosting objectives. The comprehensive and independently scrutinised evaluation reaffirmed that we have three exceptional bids, but it also identified SA as a clear leader based on performance against the key criteria.”

Here are five reasons why the bid succeeded:

1. Financial guarantees from government

Despite an initial ban by former sports minister Fikile Mbalula preventing SA Rugby from bidding for Rugby World Cup 2023‚ when Nxesi took over earlier this year government threw its weight behind the bid.

Key to the backing was government’s £160m (R2.9bn) financial guarantee to World Rugby‚ which allayed fears of commercial failure.

2. Lobbying for a transparent process

Saru was one of the driving forces behind a change in the bidding process that would allow for more transparency.

Saru pushed for an evaluation process that weighted key criteria that were made public to eliminate "horse-trading" at the voting stage.

3. Stadiums and infrastructure already in place

Thanks to hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup‚ SA has eight all-seater‚ modern stadiums to host the matches.

The smallest venue has a capacity of 43,500 while the National Stadium, where the final and opening matches will take place‚ has a capacity of more than 87,436 — making it the biggest Rugby World Cup stadium ever.

The facilities offer a projection of a record 2.9-million ticket sales‚ which will further swell World Rugby’s coffers.

4. Time zone‚ value for money and fan experience

With SA in the same time zone as the lucrative European TV market‚ the SA bid lost no ground to Ireland and France.

SA’s climate in spring is also perfect for rugby while foreign visitors will have much more spending power given the strength of the dollar‚ pound and euro against the rand.

Hotels and airports were upgraded for 2010 and will need only minor tweaks in the coming years.

5. Proven track record

SA has staged major international sporting events. The huge success with the 2010 Fifa World Cup is the most prominent. Rugby World Cup 1995‚ the 1996 African Cup of Nations and the 2003 Cricket World Cup are the three other successful major sporting events hosted here over the past quarter of a century.

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