World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper has said the World Cup could expand to 24 nations by the 2023 edition of the national team tournament.
World Rugby’s flagship competition is being held in England this year, before travelling to Japan in 2019. Twenty nations will compete at England 2015, with the tournament having featured 16 teams for its first staging in 1987.
With rugby sevens set to give the sport further global exposure when it makes its Olympic debut at Rio 2016, Gosper has rejected suggestions that any expansion of the World Cup would damage its competitive nature.
“Win margins in each World Cup are coming down and we hope that remains the case in 2015,” Gosper said at the Sport Industry Group Breakfast Club event in London. “We had talks about Japan 2019 and taking that event from 20 to 24 (teams), but we decided not to do it. However, we have to keep an eye on the fact that some of these countries on the fringes can hugely expand the sport.
“We have countries like Russia and Germany which are just outside and have huge broadcast markets and something like the World Cup would be amazing for the popularity of the sport. But you have to temper that with the realities of the competition, so it's 20 in 2015 and also 2019 but as the sport grows and conquers new markets the debate is more likely to be whether it goes up rather than whether we should be reducing.”
England 2015 is set to be the biggest from a commercial perspective in the history of the World Cup, and nations are already lining up to stage the 2023 tournament. The South African Rugby Union (SARU) this month confirmed its interest in bidding to host the event, while USA Rugby chief executive Nigel Melville told SportBusiness International in December that his organisation was in discussions over the feasibility of a bid.
The Irish Rugby Football Union has formally announced its intention to submit an all-Ireland bid to host the tournament, while Italian Rugby Federation president Alfredo Gavazzi said a bid is being prepared as part of a strategy in which Italy is also targeting the 2024 Olympic Games and the 2022 edition of golf showpiece the Ryder Cup. Argentina has also been linked to the 2023 World Cup.
Gosper added: “It (the World Cup) is a rare opportunity for the sport to project itself on the biggest global stage and the proof is that in 2023 the (hosting) fee will be higher but there is already a queue (to host it) and that's exciting for the sport.”