Rugby World Cup
Kirwan urges IRB to award World Cup to Asia
October 31, 2008
Japan coach and All Black legend John Kirwan, June 8 2008
Japan coach John Kirwan has urged the IRB to award the World Cup to an Asian nation © Getty Images

Japan coach John Kirwan has called for an end to the "political games" and insisted the International Rugby Board must take the 2015 World Cup to Asia.

Japan were outmanoeuvred by New Zealand in the final stages of the voting process for the 2011 tournament but have lodged an expression of interest to host either of the next two.

England are favourites to be awarded the 2015 tournament because many feel it is the best option to cover the financial shortfall expected from the New Zealand event.

But Kirwan has urged the IRB not to compound one mistake with another and issued a passionate reminder that developing the game is one of the organisation's key strategic objectives.

"It is like being a coach not wanting your players to compound their errors," said Kirwan, who was speaking at a debate on the future of Asian rugby, hosted by HSBC in Hong Kong.

"The errors started in 2003 when the World Cup should have been shared between Australia and New Zealand. They tried to make up for that mistake by giving it to New Zealand in 2011.

"I hope they don't make another one. It is important we understand strategically where we are going with this game. So no more political games. Let's make the right decision for our game. I believe the future is Asia. I think the game is saturated in the UK and in the southern hemisphere.

"Japan has 120,000 rugby players. Sri Lanka has 90,000 rugby players."

A World Cup in Japan would probably see some matches, if not whole pools, being hosted in Singapore and Hong Kong. Kirwan rejected the notion that taking the World Cup to Japan would be a financial gamble the IRB would be unlikely to take, particularly with the 2011 tournament projected to make a heavy finacial loss.

"It would be a huge success in Japan," said Kirwan. "More people go through one train station in Tokyo than live in Australia and New Zealand combined. Tokyo has the GDP of Italy.

"How can anyone in their right mind say it will not make money? It has a population of 120million people, the second biggest economy in the world, great infrastructure.

"How can you say it will not make money?"

Taking the World Cup to a developing nation is one of the IRB's strategic objectives. They are announcing the hosts of the 2015 and 2019 events at the same time next July in the hope it will increase the chances for a non-traditional country.

Kirwan feels the best direction for the development of world rugby is for Japan to host the 2015 tournament with Italy staging the event in 2019. "The IRB is doing a lot of great things. Their philosophy of success through competitions is the way to go. They need to keep it going," said Kirwan.

"They have some strategic decisions to make and those decisions need to be with a vision for the future. They need to make a decision on what is best for the game. It is political. All we need to do is make sure we make the right choice."

Hong Kong tomorrow hosts the first Bledisloe Cup match between New Zealand and Australia to be played on neutral soil.

There was a significant financial attraction to both unions to play the game en route to Europe - but the two chief executives also pledged their support for developing the game in Asia. Australia and New Zealand are in talks over hosting a Test in Tokyo in the next two years and there is even the possibility of Japan hosting a Super 14 franchise.

"This match is part of a longer term strategy, and one we hope the IRB share with us, that rugby to be truly global will need to gain some real following in Asia, north America and eastern Europe," said New Zealand chief executive Steve Tew.

"Everyone is conscious Japan are working hard on a bid for the World Cup."


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