It all starts tomorrow evening. Are you ready for the best ever Rugby World Cup? A tournament for the ages? Two phrases that would best be banned from the lexicon of all sport event organisers.
France 2023 is certainly the biggest Rugby World Cup to date, throwing 20 nations into the mix for two more weeks than previous editions of the competition. As a result it is the longest, 48 matches strung over eight weeks like a half load of washing pegged on a garden-length line.
Such is the scheduling constraint of a sport of intense physicality coupled with the demands of broadcasters. Last year’s men’s football World Cup processed 32 teams in just half the time; this autumn’s Cricket World Cup has 48 matches in 46 days.
At least World Rugby’s cretinous decision to seed the tournament almost three years out from the first match has created a “group of death” and hence a slug of pool stage jeopardy rather than the usual procession. Pick two from South Africa, Ireland and Scotland to then face France or New Zealand in the quarter-finals.
Harry Wells of Twenty First Group provides a much more cool-headed analysis of the mistake of the early Rugby World Cup draw than I heard from an agitated Irish Rugby Football Union director recently. Wells’s report is worth reading.
Whether this proves for you to be the best ever World Cup will depend on the quality of the weekend spikes in action that punctuate the next two months – and possibly how your own team fares.
But of course comparisons across tournaments are impossible, relying as they do on memory, perspective and yardsticks chosen. Still, though, organisers across sports insist on such hyperbolic aggrandisement, justifying ginormous budgets to match.
Last week’s column about disability sport’s struggle for visibility prompted a reader to send a link to a British athlete predicting Paris 2024 would be the “best ever” Paras. My response was to suggest we play “best ever” bingo over the next year, marking off every knee-jerk, lazy use of the phrase. Most pertinent was his analysis of the battle for airtime:
“I’m not sure I’m smart enough or have thought hard enough on how Para sport will all pan out and where the successes and failures will be. My sense is it remains super unique as there just isn’t bandwidth for us all to take all the new variants of: Para equivalent of standard sport; women’s equivalent of men’s sport; new sports – AirSpeeder, Kings League, XFL. We only have so much time.”
That certainly prompted me to Google AirSpeeder. It claims to be “the world’s first VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) crewed racing series for electric flying cars”, just so you know. Whether or not that piques your interest, the point about bandwidth is bang on.
For all the media hype ahead of the opening match, rugby union sits below the true heavyweights in the roster of global sports. It also faces such existential challenges that its ability to endure in something like its present form for many more World Cups must be questioned.
Let’s hope this doesn’t prove a tournament for the footnote curiosity of tomorrow’s sporting historians.
Are Ugo sitting comfortably?
To an almost complete absence of fanfare, the government has published a new sports strategy. It’s a tired retread of existing initiatives, almost entirely devoid of anything novel.
Had the architects of the strategy been looking for a headline, they might have secured one with their creation of a National Physical Activity Taskforce with a trio of chairs: the Culture Secretary, the Sports Minister and former rugby star Ugo Monye.
My experience of boards with two co-chairs is that they are unwieldy, inefficient and consequently frustrating to sit on. As to those with three – well, I’ve never seen one before.
“It is clear that a major effort is needed to get Britain moving and boost our national health. I’m determined to use my experience and drive forward this ambitious strategy,” Monye said.
Monye will do well to exert any degree of control over taskforce proceedings. It could prove an interesting ride for him over the next 15 months, assuming the current Parliament runs its full course.
In the interests of fairness, I’ve seen nothing innovative from the Labour opposition on sport either. If you have the time and inclination you can read Get Active here.
Bark at the moon
It is no surprise that Britain hosting major sporting events remains a major plank of the government’s strategy. Taxpayers must hope that post-event reviews are rigorous and 100 per cent independent.
Birmingham City Council has just announced it is effectively bust, unable to meet its liability for historic pay discrimination against female employees.
Given the legal case involved dates back more than a decade, how smart does it now seem to have hosted the Commonwealth Games in the city last year? And what price the Ozzy the Bull statue in a bankruptcy sale?
Surely there’s no remaining hope of Birmingham coming to the rescue of the Commonwealth Games Federation to host the orphaned 2026 Games. And who will pick up the city’s share of the costs of the European Athletics Championships slated for Brum in the same year?
Pawning the family silver
I’m grateful to an ever-excellent Substack from The Grumbler for highlighting media reports that Yorkshire County Cricket Club may sell and lease-back its Headingley home in order to clear the debts that threaten its ability to continue as a going concern.
As The Grumbler points out, such transactions have not ended well in football. My day at the Ashes in Leeds this summer revealed the ground to be sorely in need of investment.
It’s hard to see that happening under any landlord motivated to maximise its financial return and whose tenant is strapped for cash.
If cricket’s your thing, here’s a link to The Grumbler.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes at sportinc.substack.com