Surprise announcement:  SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux, left, and the organisation’s president, Mark Alexander, face the media after Wednesday’s bid announcement in which France was awarded hosting rights to the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Picture: REUTERS
Surprise announcement: SA Rugby CEO Jurie Roux, left, and the organisation’s president, Mark Alexander, face the media after Wednesday’s bid announcement in which France was awarded hosting rights to the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Picture: REUTERS

London — France will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup after the council of the sport’s governing body surprisingly went against the recommendations of an extensive evaluation report in a secret ballot on Wednesday.

SA had been recommended by World Rugby’s board but council members convincingly voted 24-15 for France, which held the tournament in 2007. Ireland was eliminated in the first round.

It was the first time the board’s recommendation had been ignored and the decision was immediately followed by questions over the selection process and the point of running an extensive and transparent evaluation process only for the decision to be taken in secret.

The shock announcement by World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont was greeted by a moment of stunned silence, before the French delegation delivered a muffled cheer.

World Rugby officials made repeated references to an "open and transparent" process but faced questions about the final decision being made in secret and the "opaque" nature of the last weeks of campaigning.

Controversy has surrounded bids to host other large sporting events recently and although the Olympic Games still has a secret ballot, Fifa has changed its rules to make the vote for the next World Cup an open one.

"Our feeling was that in a secret ballot, people could vote for whoever they wanted without fear," World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper said.

Beaumont had previously said he wanted the council to follow the board.

"Because the vote went to France after we had recommended SA doesn’t mean it’s humiliation [for World Rugby]," he said.

Bernard Laporte, president of the French rugby union, had publicly complained about the evaluation report, saying it was "nonsense and full of errors".

But the former France coach was all smiles after securing the 10th edition of the tournament that began in 1987, when the sport was still amateur.

"We did dispute some aspects, but I’m not saying that’s why we won," he said.

"We’ve won, but it’s really grassroots rugby that has won."

"It’s worth €1bn for [French] shopkeepers. More than 17,000 jobs will be created and I’m very proud of that," he said.

Questions were soon raised how France, which will also host the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, had managed to attract so much support.

The French bid guaranteed World Rugby £150m — £30m more than the minimum request and considerably more than that of both rivals — and offered a further £100m from the advance purchase of hospitality, travel and sponsorship programmes. Coming after an expected dip in revenue from the 2019 tournament in Japan, that extra funding appeared to be irresistible for some voters.

SA, which staged the 1995 World Cup and won it in their first appearance after missing the first two because of the apartheid sporting ban, had been odds-on favourite after coming out clearly on top in the evaluation report.

Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, said that he was "desolated" and fumed about breaches of protocol by other bidders. "We produced a compelling bid that earned the unanimous recommendation of the board. That recommendation was questioned last week by rivals but endorsed a second time by World Rugby last week," he said.

"However, the view of the experts and World Rugby’s leadership was overturned by World Rugby council members, who may have had other factors to take into account."

Irish Union CEO Philip Browne said "money shouldn’t be everything".

Reuters

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