The World Cup should return to South Africa, a traditional rugby heartland and super power of the game, with the second largest player community in the world, according to World Rugby’s own statistics, and the second most successful international record behind New Zealand.
South Africa hosted a magnificent 32-game World Cup in 1995; one that truly put the tournament on the map and was credited with assisting the integration process at the dawn of the post-Apartheid era. But an entire generation of Africans have grown up with no memory of that event, and almost three decades will have passed by 2023.
Meanwhile, Australia, New Zealand and England have all hosted for a second time, and the remaining foundation members of World Rugby have also been involved again in the professional era - Wales on four occasions!
The other candidates to host the tenth installment are France and Ireland. In either case that would mean a third straight World Cup in the Northern Hemisphere, when it is the Southern Hemisphere which dominates the tournament. It would also entail a return to the same corner of Europe for the fifth time in ten tournaments, making a mockery of the sport’s global pretentions.
France hosted as recently as a decade ago, and has already staged matches in three separate tournaments for a total of 58 games (third most behind New Zealand and Australia). Ireland has under five million people, only one major metropolitan centre, and only one major venue designed for rugby. It has staged a dozen World Cup matches over two tournaments, this despite having never reached its semi-final stages.
South Africa, a two-time champion, is bidding for the fourth straight occasion, its three previous attempts having been unsuccessful. This despite a vast array of huge stadia spread around dozens of cities in a vast nation of 56 million inhabitants with an ideal climate. Furthermore, geographically it is practically the antipodes of 2019 hosts Japan.
World Rugby seems almost to have lost faith in South Africa during the professional era, perhaps due to ongoing issues involved with the integration process. But surely it recognises this owes to South Africa’s unique situation as a multicultural society with a large non-white population. In this respect it stands alone among rugby’s top tier nations, all of which have European-dominated populations, and it is for this reason, precisely, that rugby needs south Africa.
Given the outstanding success of the 1995 World Cup, the best thing the game’s governing body could do in terms of its self-proclaimed ‘global’ agenda would be to revive those wonderful scenes by returning its showpiece event to the rugby heartland at the base of the African continent. Probably the worst thing it could do would be to reject the SARFU’s bid yet again. That would send out the worst possible message.