Rugby Union: Doubts grow over South African World Cup

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The Independent Online
THE PROSPECT of the 1995 World Cup taking place as planned in South Africa sharply diminished yesterday when the International Rugby Board finally admitted the necessity of establishing an emergency alternative, writes Steve Bale. This will certainly be either New Zealand, with backing from Australia, or a joint UK venture.

In the 18 months since the IRB awarded the tournament to the Republic, no one has been prepared to admit even the possibility that internecine strife in South Africa, let alone aspects of the host country's infrastructure, might make a South African World Cup unviable.

As of this week's IRB council deliberations in London, however, all that has changed. Rugby World Cup Ltd has been charged with working out where, other than South Africa, and when - the end of 1995 at the latest - the event could safely proceed.

'This council this week gave the Rugby World Cup the authority to examine contingency plans, including venues,' Eddie Tonks, chairman of the board, said yesterday. 'We took the view that we felt it would be quite irresponsible if we didn't take protection should anything happen in the future.'

Tonks said the IRB was 'not even contemplating' a World Cup elsewhere than South Africa, even though by the very nature of yesterday's announcement it clearly is. 'It's such an important event for the rugby world that we wanted to cover our tracks,' he explained.

This was not how it was portrayed when Rugby World Cup had its own briefing earlier in the month to announce that the host-union agreement with the South African Rugby Football Union had been signed. Then, Sir Ewart Bell, RWC chairman, said that to consider alternative contingencies would undermine the commercial programme for the 1995 tournament by creating uncertainty.

Because of its proximity to South Africa's first democratic general election, an incident-free conclusion to England's tour of South Africa scheduled for next May and June would be the most powerful evidence in favour of keeping the World Cup there. 'It's a bit soon after the election,' Fritz Eloff, the SARFU president and one of their IRB delegates, said.

Indeed even the South Africans themselves acknowledge the possibility that the prize, rewarding their reacceptance into international affairs, might have to be withdrawn - even though it has the blessing of the African National Congress as well as the government.

Eloff added: 'I'm not disappointed because it is the interests of rugby which come first. It would be very irresponsible not to plan ahead. We are worried about the violence in South africa but I'm confident the situation will allow the World Cup to take place there in 1995. Nelson Mandela, the state president (F W de Klerk) and others have expressed themselves very strongly in favour of the tournament in South Africa.'

The IRB has, meanwhile, agreed money-making schemes put forward by the Welsh, Australian and South African unions on behalf of their players but will investigate New Zealand's All Black Supporters' Club before granting approval.

As an aside to this, Denis Easby of England, the IRB councillor in charge of amateurism, said that any union was free to organise a gala dinner for its players just like the Australians had done. It netted the Wallabies around pounds 250,000.

The IRB has awarded the 1997 World Cup Sevens to Hong Kong, where it will then very likely stay on a four-yearly basis. At the request of the hosts, sevens is to be included in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia.