Late spin that threatened to derail Australia’s Rugby World Cup bidding

At first glance, Rugby Australia’s quest to bring the Men’s and Women’s World Cups to our shores looked perfect. As it turns out, however, there were some close conversations backstage that may have ruined the offer.

Australia was named as the host of the Men’s World Cup in 2027 and the Women’s World Rugby event on Thursday night in 2029.

But there were two key moments where things could have worked out for Australian rugby fans.

The news of the home World Cup is sure to be warmly welcomed by former players such as Wallabies Al Baxter (left) and Chris Latham (right).

The news of the home World Cup is sure to be warmly welcomed by former players such as Wallabies Al Baxter (left) and Chris Latham (right).

The RA’s bidding team proved to be strong, boasting an advisory board that included former Prime Minister John Howard, Governor General Peter Cosgrove, International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates and Knight of the Kingdom Sir Rod Eddington as chairman.

The first and most obvious failure was finance. Covid couldn’t have come at a worse time for RA following a tumultuous playing period under former CEO Raelene Castle.

The game bled out for millions of dollars, a new broadcast deal failed to close, and the five nations rivalry in Super Rugby was unsuccessful.

Victorian and Australian rugby players show their support for the bidding

Victorian and Australian rugby players show their support for the bidding

While every nation suffered during the Covid pandemic and pause button presses in domestic and international matches, it really was a bit for Australia and the RA had to get funding from the sport’s international governing body to survive.

So, while no other nation really hunted the 2027 World Cup – the United States briefly raised its hand, but was far behind on the offer – Australia still had a lot of work to do.

Of course, Australia cannot fool anyone that they have money in the bank or that domestic competition is in good shape. The scars of recent years have been visible to everyone.

So the first hurdle the board had to overcome was proving that the World Cups – especially the men’s edition – would be profitable.

The Springboxes were denied the 2023 World Cup in France's favor, resulting in changes to the way World Rugby selects winning nations

The Springboxes were denied the 2023 World Cup in France’s favor, resulting in changes to the way World Rugby selects winning nations

It was here that Australia captured a significant twist on the ball. Following a fiasco in which South Africa missed the 2023 World Cup, when France voted for the winner instead, the controversial voting system was rejected. Instead, World Rugby will announce a preferred candidate.

But when the Aussie bid team flew to London for a face-to-face meeting, they had to think quickly on their own feet as that wasn’t the only change. Cash-poor Australians would also have to pay the bills for every aspect of the World Cup held on Australian soil – including tickets, hospitality and domestic travel.

The Sydney Ferry passes the illuminated pylon of the Sydney Harbor Bridge ahead of the final vote to host the Rugby World Cup

The Sydney Ferry passes the illuminated pylon of the Sydney Harbor Bridge ahead of the final vote to host the Rugby World Cup

Australia rugby union boss Andy Marinos has admitted to The Advertiser that the late shift could mean doom for the Australian bid.

“We realized that by entering this November meeting we need to achieve quite a lot in terms of revenues as this is what finances the world game for the next four years.

“And we knew there were murmurs among the members, would Australia be able to provide this?

“So it really made us mix up pretty quickly.

“We’ve always had confidence that we would, but it was just a question of how much would go to Australia and how much to World Rugby?”

History shows that the RA team survived this hurdle and negotiated a deal with World Rugby – which will provide sponsorship and broadcasts – that would be beneficial to both parties.

However, the bidding team also encountered another hurdle just before that meeting in November 2021.

Let’s go back to the Covid pandemic and the financial situation of Rugby Australia. The condition for securing the World Cup was that both state and federal governments invested in the show event.

Victorian Rugby Union Chairman Neil Hay, Rugby Australia Board Director Phil Waugh, Bidding Advisory Chairman Sir Rod Eddington and Visit Victoria General Manager Brendan McClement

Victorian Rugby Union Chairman Neil Hay, Rugby Australia Board Director Phil Waugh, Tender Advisory Chairman Sir Rod Eddington and Visit Victoria General Manager Brendan McClement

The RA team started this process in 2019 taking delegates to Japan to show them just how huge the World Cup was. Everything seemed fine.

Until the simple message came out: “There is even more work to do before we can fully commit ourselves as government.”

Bidding team executive director and former Wallaby Phil Kearns did not disclose details of how management handled the challenge, but admitted that getting government support for the November meeting required swift action and flexibility.

“We’ve always been sure we could turn this around with a bit of quick thinking and a bit of flexibility,” said Kearns.

“This is where the experience with the offer came in. Thinking a little differently, we were able to make both things work. “

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