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Japan pledges to deliver as World Rugby issues World Cup demands

Japanese organisers of the 2019 Rugby World Cup have pledged to meet World Rugby’s demand for a fresh masterplan for the tournament, after the global governing body today (Thursday) said it would need a new roadmap for its showpiece event by the end of September.

World Rugby has been forced to reassess plans for the World Cup after the 80,000-seat National Stadium, which was set to be the centrepiece of the tournament ahead of Tokyo’s hosting of the 2020 Olympic Games, was removed as a host venue for the rugby union showpiece. The decision came in July following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s move to shelve the original design amid concerns over spiralling costs – a development which will mean a new venue will not be ready in time for the 2019 World Cup.

The National Stadium remains at the heart of the Olympic plans, but the delay leaves World Rugby without a venue for its World Cup final and a number of matches earlier in the tournament. Following what it called a “detailed analysis” of the impact of the Japanese government’s “disappointing decision” to remove the new National Stadium as a World Cup host venue, World Rugby today set out a revised roadmap for the Japan Rugby 2019 organising committee to deliver “key assurances” regarding the successful delivery of the tournament.

World Rugby said: “These are designed to ensure that Rugby World Cup 2019 will be a superb event that will further the development and growth of rugby in Japan and around the world. The new National Stadium was due to be the centrepiece of an exciting programme of 12 host venues, staging the opening match, the final and other key clashes and its loss has significant impact on the overall ticketing capacity and tournament budget. These are critical to an event that is the lifeblood of the game, underpinning its growth worldwide and the financial support of 120 national rugby federations.”

Further to what it called “detailed and positive consultation” with JR 2019, World Rugby said it is seeking formal reassurance regarding two key hosting criteria by the end of September in order to undertake a thorough review and analysis of the information. This includes a “revised detailed host venue proposal” and a revised tournament budget with “appropriate financial security”.

World Rugby said it remains confident that the criteria can be met by the Japan Rugby 2019 Organising Committee. Akira Shimazu, the committee’s chief executive, said it is drafting fresh plans that would satisfy the global body.

“World Rugby and the Rugby World Cup 2019 organising committee have engaged in talks over venue and budget plans in light of the development that the new national stadium won't be available,” Shimazu said, according to the AFP news agency. “Both World Rugby and us are taking forward-looking approaches, and we are working hard to reach an agreement by the end of September at the latest.”

The latest development came as Australian Rugby Union (ARU) chief executive Bill Pulver suggested either his country, or South Africa, could step in if World Rugby strips hosting rights from Japan. Pulver admitted Australia is desperate to host another World Cup but South Africa is probably ahead in the order of southern hemisphere nations, having waited longer since it last hosted in 1995.

While admitting Japan is unlikely to lose its hosting rights, Pulver said today: “I hope sincerely that Japan doesn’t fall over and I doubt if they will fall over. We did not bid for the 2019 World Cup. We desperately want another World Cup as quickly as we can. Tactically we’d have to establish whether it made sense for us if it was opened up to go in or whether it made sense to clear out one of the countries that would most likely be in the pathway before us. Obviously, our southern hemisphere friends in South Africa are desperate for a second World Cup given that would even it out. So we’d have to work out whether we’d just get in behind them and support them. To be honest, I suspect we would.”

Asked about Australia’s current prospects, Pulver said, according to the AAP news agency: “Realistically, the earliest we can consider (hosting) is 31 (2031) … that may or may not be right. If Japan was to fall over, maybe we could bring it forward, but I’m not sure we’d be in line to do 19, we’d probably support South Africa. I think we’d be a bit of a long putt to win 19, if it came up… By the way …I don’t think it will come up. I’m pretty sure Japan will deal with what the issues are.”