World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper is confident that Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan will be their most successful yet‚ despite some organisational problems over the past few years.  

Japan was awarded the hosting rights to the event a decade ago and Gosper acknowledged that the lead-time was too long. Japan will also host the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and it was initially feared the global multi-sport showpiece could detract from the Rugby World Cup.

“There were some hiccups in the planning along the way and at times we had a few issues and we had to put pressure on the organising committee‚” Gosper told Business Day at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco.

“They responded and are well on track now. This was also the longest build-up to a World Cup as Japan were awarded the hosting rights 10 years ago and that’s almost too long. Ideally, you want about six years’ lead-up to a World Cup.

“In the beginning we worried that the tournament was the year before the Tokyo Olympics and that it might be eclipsed a little bit in terms of marketing and support.

“But in reality it has converged really well with Tokyo 2020. We have had nearly 5-million ticketing requests for the 1.8-million tickets we have available, so the Olympics certainly haven’t eclipsed us on the marketing demand front.

“Generally we prefer to follow an Olympics‚ like we did in Sydney [2000] and London [2012], but this has worked well by being in and around the general momentum the Olympics creates as well.”

Gosper also predicted that on the field, the All Blacks might not have it all their own way‚ having won the last two tournaments in New Zealand and England in 2011 and 2015.

“It’s a big year for rugby, and we have seen that already in the games of the Six Nations so far‚” Gosper said.

“It is going to be hard to pick a winner in 2019. I’m sure the All Blacks will still go in as favourites, but there are a lot more teams kicking at their heels.”

As rugby fights for a place among elite sports globally‚ the staging of a successful World Cup is crucial to the development of the game.

Japan is important  because it is the first time the sport’s flagship event will be hosted outside of a traditional rugby country.

“The Rugby World Cup in Japan is hugely important for us and for the growth of the sport. We set out to get a million new participants by the time we got to the World Cup and we achieved that two months ago‚” Gosper said. 

“Another aspect was that we estimated revenue would be a lot lower in terms of commercial value, yet we are seeing more commercial revenue than four years ago in England.

“So that has been successful on that front and it looks set to be the biggest World Cup in terms of economic activity. There will be £2bn of economic activity created in Japan around the World Cup. It’s been very successful so far.”