USA not far off from hosting a RWC

Date published: November 11 2010

The chief executive of rugby's governing body believes it is a question of “when, not if” the sport's World Cup is held in the United States.

The chief executive of rugby's governing body believes it is a question of “when, not if” the sport's World Cup is held in the United States.

Japan will become the first nation from outside the sport's elite to host the four-yearly showpiece in 2019, and International Rugby Board chief Mike Miller said that the United States or Russia could soon follow.

“It's a question of when – not if – it's going to happen,” Miller said.

Rugby's profile has been boosted by inclusion of its seven-a-side discipline in the Summer Olympics from 2016, and the IRB wants to use the elite World Cup to spread participation in a sport played to its highest level in few nations outside Europe and Australasia.

And the 15-man sport is set for further exposure in the USA next year when NBC broadcasts the World Cup from New Zealand in the United States for the first time.

The IRB last year awarded England the 2015 World Cup hosting rights at the same time as giving the 2019 edition to Japan, which has participated in every tournament since it was first staged in 1987 but has won only once in 20 matches.

Miller said he hoped to continue the practice of choosing two hosts at a time since it allowed the IRB to make a big profit in an established nation before taking a relative gamble on a country that would never otherwise get the chance.

The strategy also gives the lesser nation more time to prepare and work with its more experienced predecessor.

“If you only award one at a time, because all of our funding depends upon (the) Rugby World Cup, you're more likely to take the safe conservative option,” Miller said.

“If you do two together, you can take a longer term view. You can say, 2015, that's England, that's a banker. Loads of money, that'll work; full stadia, great press coverage.'

“Japan should work and should spread rugby in Asia. Coupled with England? Great let's do it. Japan versus England? Not quite so sure.”

Such a process could take the World Cup to the United States in 2027, but Russia may be ahead in the queue because its games would be broadcast at a time more accessible to rugby's heartlands.

“We need to grow the game all over the world and Asia's a huge market,” Miller said.

“Europe's a big market with 300 million, but then you look at India and China and you see 2.5 billion.”

The United States also needs to show that the World Cup would leave a suitable legacy in the country.

Since that would not involve the widespread construction of stadiums or facilities in a nation awash with them, that would rest upon raising participation.

“There's no doubt they can hold it,” Miller said.

“There's no point having it if you then don't have the infrastructure in place to benefit from it. We would need to see what happens as a result of the exposure on NBC and the Olympics as Rio gets closer.

“It's too early to tell what will happen in the USA in the next three or four years. It will be crucial seeing 2016 and Rio if the U.S. qualify. There's no doubt the game is growing in the U.S., it's just a question of how fast it is growing.”

Miller hailed rugby's new status as an Olympic sport as a crucial step in spreading the sport's popularity to nations such as the United States. America has 80,000 registered players but few successes since winning gold at the 1920 and '24 Olympics – the last two occasions the sport figured at a Summer Games.

USA Sevens has now scheduled a second Collegiate Rugby Championship for June 4-5 next year in Chester,Philadelphia. NBC will broadcast the competition, which will include Temple, Penn State and Notre Dame, live.

“We have high hopes that the Collegiate Rugby Championship and the sport itself will become part of the fabric of the city and the region,” executive vice president of NBC Sports Jon Miller said.

Russia, which is in the same group as the United States Eagles at the 2011 World Cup, only allows schools to teach Olympic sports. It also allows teams to draw upon funding from national Olympic committees and their facilities.

“Rugby is now on the curriculum in the Moscow region. That's of huge benefit to rugby in Russia,” Miller said.

“Previously you had after-school clubs, but you were one step removed and it makes things that little bit harder.

“When people take up rugby, it's too late. In England, Australia and New Zealand, you start at 6, 7 or 8 years old. If they start at 15 or 16 in Russia or someone else, it's really difficult to catch up those years lost.”

The IRB is asking its 117 affiliated nations to become members of their national Olympic committees by 2012, with Australia's sevens team already having benefited from such an arrangement to win this year's London Sevens – its first tournament win for 22 years.

Qualifying has yet to be finalized for the 2016 Olympic Sevens, which is set to feature 12 men's and women's teams. The IRB must decide whether the host nation qualifies by right and how to divide the other places.

Like in soccer, Britain's four component nations compete separately at international level.

So, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland – which includes players from Northern Ireland and the independent south – need to decide between them how to field a British side.

“Our advice to them was for the four unions to discuss among themselves how they want to approach it,” Miller said.

“They could have a different entity, they could have a qualifying tournament among themselves – so say Scotland wins and they represent Team GB – they could have a joint team like the British and Irish Lions, or whatever.

“It's up to them what they feel most comfortable with.”