Loose Pass

Date published: June 10 2015

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This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a Rugby World Cup success the sport's emerging nations can celebrate.

Who should host the sport's biggest party?

World Rugby hailed the latest stage of the selection process for Rugby World Cup 2023 this week with five potential hosts – Ireland, Italy, France, South Africa and USA – gathering in London for 'two days of briefing and information sharing'.

The governing body's delight at the fact five countries are willing to welcome the world and stump up the £80m-plus hosting fee oozed out of every word in the press release but they are not the only ones with reason to celebrate – but we'll get to that.

The USA are the latest country to come to the table having already secured the hosting rights for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 and shown that they can stage and market major games successfully in the form of last year's sold out clash with the All Blacks at Soldier Field and the forthcoming game against Australia.

But realistically you sense they will have to wait a little longer to host the big one and are just familiarising themselves with the process this time around.

With RWC 2019 being staged in Japan, the sport's showpiece event is sure to return to one of its strongholds four years later and the remaining four countries in the mix – others could possibly join them – can all lay claim to such status.

The fact that both South Africa (1995), France (1991 and 2007) and Ireland (1991) have either acted as hosts or shared the honour already means little in a world where profits and funding the future of the game take priority, but it will matter to some including Italy, who along with Argentina, are the only Tier 1 nations not to have rolled out the welcome mat to the rest of the world.

Argentina would no doubt make excellent hosts but are currently understood to be concentrating on cementing their place as a Tier 1 nation in The Rugby Championship and readying themselves for their entry into an expanded Super Rugby competition next year.

Also a factor, but arguably less so as the 2023 tournament will follow the ground-breaking event in Japan, is World Rugby's desire, 'to inspire, to reach out and attract new participants and audiences' but equally important is the bottom line and the ability to, 'deliver the financial platform for rugby to continue its phenomenal growth.'

The biggest barrier that all the potential hosts face is not a more convincing bid from one of their rivals but a hangover from the amateur era – an unfair voting system that gives more power to some nations than others.

A total of 102 countries are currently listed in the international rankings, with many more having 'associate member' status, but sadly the real power rests with a select few.

Rugby World Cup Limited, the subsidiary of World Rugby that owns the tournament, makes its decision regarding the hosts but it must then be ratified by the World Rugby Council before it is official.

The Council comprises representatives of eight Unions with two votes each (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia), four Unions with one vote each (Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan) and World Rugby's six regional Associations (Africa, Asia, North America & the Caribbean, South America, Oceania and Europe) who all have one vote each.

World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset also sits on the Council but only has a casting vote while vice chairman Oregan Hoskins continues to act as one of South Africa's representatives.

As a result, 26 votes ultimately decide the destination of the Cup with the Council voting 16-10 in favour of awarding England and Japan the 2015 and 2019 tournaments in the last voting process.

It is a pretty depressing picture for any emerging nation – and even some established ones – hoping to get a piece of the pie. But long over-due change could be on the horizon.

At last, World Rugby appears to have realised that they can no longer talk a good game when it comes to expanding rugby union's global footprint and at the same time continue to marginalise those same nations when it comes to governing the sport.

Ireland's bid chairman Dick Spring let the cat out of the bag recently when he revealed that World Rugby are poised to announce a revamp of the process that will see the number of votes that decide the process, 'go up to somewhere between 35 and 40'.

In an interview he said: “Everybody wants change but nobody wants to lose their strong position. But there will be change in terms of the structure of World Rugby and in terms of the voting strength of the various countries and we’ll know that by the autumn.”

He also confidently claimed that Ireland had secured '40%' of the required vote which seems quite odd given the multiple votes that will surely be required to whittle down the field until it is a two-horse race.

It also suggests Spring knows where the extra votes – possibly as many as 14 – will go as a result of the shake up.

Given their current status on the world stage, Argentina and Italy can certainly expect to be handed extra clout but outside of that any change is not so clear.

The most likely option is the regional associations given the concern over a lack of support for the Pacific nations, the growing stature of European nations like Georgia and World Rugby's often-expressed desire to develop the game, specifically in Asia and North America.

That still leaves room for one or two surprises and we must wait and see if the voting power extends to other areas of governance aside from helping to decide on tournament hosts.

World Rugby had no official comment to make on the subject when asked for input into this piece but there was no denial a change is going to come and that alone is something to celebrate.

Any new voting system will not be perfect and there will no doubt still be room for the kind of horse-trading that has allegedly marred previous votes like the one that took the 2011 tournament to New Zealand rather than Japan.

So where will Rugby World Cup 2023 be staged? The smart money would suggest South Africa given what will have been a 28-year wait for the World Cup to return, their repeated attempts to secure the tournament and the commercial-friendly timezone.

They would get my vote but it's not me that they need to convince.

Loose Pass is compiled by former scrum.com editor Graham Jenkins

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