At 4.00pm UK time this afternoon the Southern Hemisphere countries of Australia and New Zealand will contest the final of the 2015 Rugby World Cup at Twickenham Stadium in south-west London.
As I type this I have no idea which of them will lift the William Webb Ellis trophy and in one sense it doesn’t matter. Despite the fact that that every European country departed the tournament before the semi-finals and that host nation England didn’t even manage to make it out of Pool A in the group stage, by common consent – as acknowledged on Thursday by World Rugby dignitaries – this has been, by a healthy margin, the biggest and most successful Rugby World Cup ever.
It might even be, perhaps assisted by its debut appearance at the Rio Olympics next year, rugby union’s springboard to becoming a truly global sport ranking worthy of being mentioned in the slipstream not too far behind the universal sporting language that is soccer.
Nowhere close still, mind, but at least making rapid strides in the right direction. Those with far greater experience and insider knowledge than me hold that with rugby becoming the USA’s fastest-growing team sport, plus African countries and, most significantly of all China, also making significant development strides, the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan could result in a spectacular leap forward for the oval-balled game.
See here for a link to a typical recent review – by Gavin Mairs (Rugby News correspondent) – of the success of the 2015 tournament, as featured on the website of the – DAILY TELEGRAPH
Looking at world sport in the round, as I do from time to time, one thing has occurred to me with blinding clarity over the course of the last two months.
I can claim no special originality for my proposition because I am sure that – throughout the United Kingdom, in pubs, clubs, homes and indeed generally wherever two or more people are gathered together and the subject of sport comes up in conversation – a similar thought has been aired.
It is that the United Kingdom … or (I’m open to discussion or even negotiation here) perhaps that should be ‘the British Isles’, or even rugby’s convoluted ‘British and Irish Lions’ countries – however, you know what I mean to refer to, i.e. effectively the ‘home nations’ as they are known in European rugby’s Six Nations tournament … should officially become the world’s regular ‘go to’ territory in terms of hosting at the very least the World Cups of soccer and rugby union, the Olympics and quite possible athletics’ World Championships as well.
Now – before any Rust reader jumps down my throat and/or recoils in horror at this outrageously arrogant idea, or dismisses it out of hand on the grounds that ‘it would never happen’ and/or begins listing all the political and logistical obstacles – please hear me out.
And yes, it was partly because somehow, courtesy of a range of disparate factors randomly coming together but also character, hard work and stubbornness, at some point during the 19th Century Britain grew an Empire that eventually (at its height) encompassed just about one-quarter of both the world’s total land area and population. These days some PC-minded people regard this as a matter of regret and/or shame, but I don’t. In a period of history in which the world’s different cultures and strategic interests were recognised as being potentially impossible to reconcile and/or of coexisting harmoniously, at least one country came along and set some standards and principles of behaviour that were logical and widely admired (occasionally).
Somebody needed to.
My first point is that – being blunt about it – the Brits gave the world a route to organising and developing great sports on a global scale. It goes without saying, of course, that’s there’s an element of truth to the glib line that “We invented all the sports worthy playing, and now everyone else beats us at them”.
But let’s cut to the chase and look forward.
The IOC (organisers of the Olympics), FIFA (ditto of world soccer) and indeed World Rugby (ditto of rugby union) – add here your other favourite world governing bodies and sports – all get interminably bogged down in wrestling with politics, cabals, behind the scenes deals, ‘favoured nations’, vested interests and all the ongoing problems that accompany the vast amounts of inflowing money that come with broadcasting rights, sponsorship, national prestige and every shade of personal and national vanity.
Would it not solve a myriad of problems if all such sports simple decreed that, for example, Britain should host every other summer Olympics, soccer World Cup and rugby union version?
Firstly, as night follows day, we’d do it better than anyone else. Secondly, the revenues generated would be ginormous. Thirdly, the ongoing costs of organising these events could be greatly reduced – never mind just the costly and time-consuming bidding processes, I’m also talking here of Britain’s ability to plan its related long-term infrastructure, including ground facility and travelling, projects.
The IOC has in the past considered, in the cause of reducing cost and disruption, making one nation its eternal Olympic hosts – at the time Athens was in the frame, specifically because it was where the Ancient Olympic Games took place. However, these days of course, given the state of Greece, it is perhaps fortunate that nothing ever came of it.
But why not come to Britain once every eight years … and then (as before) go elsewhere around the globe for the Olympics in between? The same might easily apply to good effect with the equivalent soccer and rugby World Cup schedules.
You could make the argument simply on the guarantee of success and cost-savings alone – never mind the fact that at a stroke, by definition, you’d also be halving the potential for corruption and back-room sleigh-of-hand deals.
Plus, of course, everyone from around the world loves coming to Britain – think of the warm beer, cucumber sandwiches at the village cricket, Cornish pasties, the Tower of London, Benedict Cumberbatch, the Royal Family, queuing, fish & chips, Big Ben, red London buses, Cockney slang, Mary Poppins, bobbies on the beat (budgets permitting), Prince Harry, bagpipes and haggis from north of the border, the Swinging Sixties, Adele, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, One Direction and Boris … you know the sort of thing.
Some of my readers may think I’m suggesting all this ‘tongue in cheek’. Well, maybe, possibly. But there’s a serious point in there as well. Britain puts on a pretty good sporting party. Its people love sport and – as we’ve seen with this Rugby World Cup – our national enthusiasm for it does not does not depend (as it would with some countries) upon the host nation reaching the final.
Which is fortunate, both because we so rarely involved in the climax of any tournament and because it means that the world governing bodies would have one less issue (financial guarantees and/or profit) to worry about every four years.
What’s not to like? The logic seems inescapable to me. The only thing further that might improve the way the world is going might be if Britain ran Europe and then eventually the United Nations.
But one step at a time, lads.
Let’s get world sport organised properly first.
After all, it’s far more important than nannying 28 European countries which have been ‘captured’ by an extremist group of undemocratic centralising federalists or indeed banging heads together in the UN General Council.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. But then again, neither was the new Wembley Stadium.