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World in union | The race to host Rugby World Cup 2023: South Africa

The candidates for the 2023 Rugby World Cup: South Africa

As iconic sporting moments of the 20th century go, few can rival the image of Nelson Mandela, kitted out in the green jersey of his homeland, handing the Webb Ellis Cup to South Africa captain Francois Pienaar after the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.

Marking the start of a bright new era for the ‘rainbow nation’, the 1995 tournament is fondly remembered by many as evidence of how sport has the potential to unite and bring people together beyond traditionally fractious dividing lines.

Twenty-two years on from that remarkable competition – when the late, great Jonah Lomu burst on to the international scene, but was then thwarted by the hosts in the final – South Africa is hoping to be given the opportunity to make more unforgettable memories as it competes for the right to bring the event back to the country in 2023.

However, the team behind South Africa 2023 is determined to underline the fact that the country’s bid is built on substance rather than merely raw emotions. “While we’re very proud of what South Africa delivered in 1995 and the country’s long and abiding love of rugby, we are not relying on sentiment to win this bid,” Jurie Roux, SA Rugby’s chief executive, tells SportBusiness International.

“We emphatically believe we have the best bid.”

Commercial environment

In pledging that the tournament would be “the most profitable Rugby World Cup”, Roux adds: “The South African government-guaranteed tournament fee is £160m (€180m/$216m), which is £40m more than the bid requirement. In South Africa the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be a low-risk, high-return event in an ideal commercial environment in terms of the time zone, language and rights protection.

“It will be the most profitable World Cup in the tournament’s history, with a projected 2.9 million tickets sold and the biggest ever final in-stadium attendance.

"Based on the World Bank’s purchasing parity index, we can deliver a high-quality event for half, or less than half, of what it will cost in Europe.

“Rugby World Cup 2023 will be the biggest, most financially successful Rugby World Cup ever. It will deliver at least £30.1m after tax to World Rugby.

“Our highly attractive exchange rate means that fans can spend two or three weeks following their team from the pool to the knockout stages for the same cost as just one week in Ireland or France.

"We’re only an overnight flight from Europe – attractive for sponsors, international and corporate travellers alike – and we’re located in the most lucrative broadcast time zone.” 

According to an assessment by auditors at Grant Thornton, the tournament would bring South Africa R27.3bn (€1.7bn/$2bn) in direct, indirect and induced economic impact. It would also sustain 38,600 annual jobs – some temporary and some permanent. 

The tournament would generate R11bn in direct spend in South Africa and R1.4bn in tax revenue, with R5.7bn flowing to low-income households. 

The economic impact will be shared across the seven host cities, with eight stadia in place to host games, having served as venues during the 2010 Fifa World Cup in the country.

Advocates of South Africa’s bid point to previous experience of hosting major events such as football’s showpiece seven years ago, as well as an understanding of how to bring in the public to fill the stadia.

“We’ve just hosted the largest-ever Super Rugby final in a packed 62,000 all-seat stadium,” Roux says. “We’re one of only two countries to successfully host the rugby, football and cricket World Cups.

"We hosted the relocated 2009 Indian Premier League with fewer than 30 days’ notice. In the same period we hosted the 2009 British & Irish Lions and the Fifa Confederations Cup. 

“One of our innovations is that people who buy tickets for the higher-priced games – the opening game, quarter and semi-finals, bronze final and final – will be required to buy a certain number of tickets for pool matches.

"These will be given to non-governmental organisations and distributed to schools and clubs, ensuring that there will be opportunities for people in poorer communities to enjoy the event.

“In addition, in our ticketing strategy and particularly in the pool games we have prioritised attendance. There will be affordable tickets, ensuring that locals enjoy the tournament and that our large stadia are filled to capacity.”

Engage with fans

There are also plans to engage with fans outside, as well as inside, the stadia.

“Our digital partnership with Dimension Data’s sports practice business unit will ensure the most-connected digital tournament to date,” Roux says.

“The digital innovations, providing seamless fan engagement and broadcasting production and consumption, can be used in future Rugby World Cups.”

The country’s reputation as a host of major sports events took a knock earlier this year, when it was confirmed that Durban, which had originally been awarded the hosting rights for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, would not stage the event after all.

However, Roux insists that government support is firmly in place for the bid for the Rugby World Cup and the financial model underpinning the 2023 event would be far more secure than the one proposed for the Commonwealth Games.

“The South African government made a responsible decision about the Commonwealth Games,” he says. “It did not renege on a guarantee. It decided not to proceed because of cost overruns on the budget provided.

“What is different about the 2023 Rugby World Cup is that it has been carefully budgeted, the costs are known and our government has given an irrevocable guarantee.

"We have also provided a legal opinion from a major, global law firm on Rugby World Cup Limited rights under the guarantee.”

In a competitive field, South Africa’s bid team truly believes it has the most compelling proposition, pointing out that it already has “eight high-quality, match-ready venues capable of hosting 2.68 million ticket-holders”. Moreover, it says that its stadia are not football-specific and are therefore “set up for rugby broadcasts”. 

“Of course, our operational excellence in hosting large events extends beyond broadcasting the matches,” Roux adds. “We gained vast experience during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, 2003 Cricket World Cup and 2010 Fifa World Cup, and this will be further honed when we deliver the British & Irish Lions tour in 2021.

"Unlike France, all this expertise will be focused entirely on delivering the best Rugby World Cup ever – not split between rugby’s showcase and the Olympics.

“Business Insider’s ‘beer index’ shows a beer in Paris costs the equivalent of $7 and in Dublin it’s $6.50. Compare this to Cape Town, where it’s just $2.20, and Johannesburg, where an average pint is just $1.70.

“That’s why we’ll be asking the World Rugby Council and its ExCo to vote for us, not because of sentiment, what we achieved in 1995 and since, or our proud rugby history.

"We’re asking to be assessed against their criteria: vision and concept; tournament organisation and schedule; venues and host cities; tournament infrastructure and finance; and commercial commitments.”

Further reading

This article features in the World Class Sports Hosts supplement which appeared in this month's SportBusiness International magazine

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