Wednesday, September 26, 2007

For World Cup Rugby, it’s time to stop counting the costs

I’ve spent the last few days in France enjoying the Rugby World Cup and watching the Southern Hemisphere sides have the best of times. They are relishing this tournament. The big teams (New Zealand, South Africa and Australia) and the smaller sides (Tonga, Samoa and Fiji) are all reveling in pacey, free flowing rugby. The Northern Hemisphere sides seem mired in defensive, passionless, mechanical game plans where fear of defeat is prevailing over the lust for success. New Zealand will have a tricky Quarter Final to play against a Northern Hemisphere opponent, but then I believe we’ll have to beat Australia and South Africa to lift the trophy. That’s no easy feat, though probably easier than it is for the South Africans and Australians who have to beat New Zealand!

And of course, the 2011 tournament will take place in New Zealand. This will be big deal for a small country, and sweet revenge against all the big money and big countries who seem to be taking over the business of sport at the highest level. I’m a big believer in sport as a liberator for smaller nations and as a way to build sustainable self-esteem and wealth in smaller, underdeveloped countries. I’m also a big believer in countries hosting world-class tournaments. There’s lots and lots of talk about the costs of these tournaments to host countries, but just look at the way cities and countries can be transformed by a major sporting event. Auckland’s waterfront was developed and made world-class by the America’s Cup; Barcelona was dragged from average to the grooviest city in Europe through the Olympics; South Africa was brought back into the world by the 1995 Rugby World Cup; and the Beijing Olympics will, I hope, bring transparency to China. To top it all off, London’s East End will at last be developed and modernized through that city’s own upcoming Olympics.

I hope the International Rugby Board will maximize the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. To do that, I believe they need to:

  • Keep the current format of 20 teams. It is by far the best way to encourage the smaller nations to grow.
  • Add a plate tournament. Let’s make the long journey to New Zealand even more worthwhile for the Tier 2 Nations.
I’ll bet you anything you like that New Zealand will turn it on just as Australia did in 2003. I have no doubt, no doubt at all, that we Kiwis will make Rugby World Cup 2011 the most enjoyable event ever. Start spreading the word.