At 3.15pm on Wednesday, the integrity of the process through which the host country of Rugby World Cup 2023 is selected‚ and more broadly of rugby governance‚ will be on display.
The rectitude of rugby’s leadership will be undermined if any name other than "SA" emerges from an envelope in London.
If SA‚ the preferred candidate based on the recommendation by an independent panel of experts after an exhaustive analysis of the bids‚ does not win‚ finding bidders in future might be difficult.
The Olympics and football World Cup have been marred by accusations of nefarious bidding processes and rugby has endured similar corridor assertions. By making the bids transparent and the findings of the evaluation committee public‚ World Rugby has challenged its membership council to vote purely on technical merits.
The potential cost of putting on a World Cup is large, as are the benefits.
Because of the complex nature of presenting the third-biggest global sporting event‚ World Rugby has tried to move away from shadowy deals and last-minute promises.
It is a secret ballot and SA has a history of being hurt in these situations. It was the case when it bid for both the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cup‚ the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 football World Cup.
France and Ireland‚ the other two countries in the race‚ have presented strong bids‚ which was acknowledged by the evaluation committee. But it has recommended that votes go to SA‚ which scored 79% to France’s 76% and Ireland’s 73%.
If the process were completely honest‚ SA should win all 39 available votes because every council member agreed to the process and to use the outcome of the evaluation process to guide its vote. But that scenario is unlikely‚ which casts doubt over the bidding process yet again.
SA‚ France and Ireland cannot vote and all that SA knows is it is guaranteed nine votes from its Sanzaar partners.
Indications from Britain are that the Rugby Football Union (RFU) is set to vote against SA and it might take Wales with it. According to a weekend newspaper report the UK’s department of sport urged the RFU to side with Ireland’s bid.
The Confederation of African Rugby has two votes‚ and should in theory vote for SA. But its president lives in Paris and is known to be friendly with French officials.
France believes it has 14 votes, according to sources in that country‚ which makes it a dangerous opponent.
If no country earns an outright majority of 20 votes in the first round of voting, the bid with the least support will drop out and the process will move to a second round. If Ireland or France drops out in the first round, those votes should go to the preferred candidate. But nothing is guaranteed.
SA Rugby president Mark Alexander and CE Jurie Roux have been in London lobbying for delegates to do the right thing and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa arrived on Tuesday to help sell the bid.