The host-union agreement between Rugby World Cup Ltd and the SARFU has finally been signed but yesterday's hastily convened press conference in London, which followed a board meeting of Rugby World Cup on the Isle of Man, was the first in which the possibility has been admitted that there might just be a chance that the venue might have to change. If so, New Zealand - supported by Australia - and an Anglo-Welsh bid would be leading contenders.
However, there is still no alternative contingency and it appears the security situation after the South African election on 29 April will be critical. 'If we were to have a contingency at this stage, 19 months in advance of the date of the opening match, then it would inevitably undermine the arrangements being made to run the tournament in South Africa,' the RWC chairman, Sir Ewart Bell, said.
In fact the responsibility for the venue is the International Rugby Football Board's but the Board takes advice from RWC and its chairman, Eddie Tonks of New Zealand, has already publicly expressed disquiet about South Africa as the host country.
The pointed change in the World Cup directors' tone has also been influenced by the activities of Louis Luyt, the Transvaal Rugby Union president who was appointed by the SARFU to deal single-handedly with RWC. As Luyt controls Ellis Park, Johannesburg, the venue for the 1995 final, he is in a potent position within South Africa and famously does not get on with Nic Labuschagne, the South African on the RWC board.
Indeed Labuschagne, who hooked for England when a student in London 40 years ago, is not even on the SARFU committee and would be more than happy to see Luyt reined in. 'I don't believe he is going to be the sole administrator and adjudicator of what happens in South Africa,' Labuschagne said yesterday. 'I'm sure now that the host-union agreement has been signed, we will put a committee into place.'
This agreement has gone some way to wresting some control from Luyt. For one thing it guarantees 50 per cent of match tickets for RWC, despite Luyt's best endeavours to get more, and now that it has been signed RWC expects to gain pounds 12m or more in major sponsorships to add to the pounds 18m in broadcasting deals already settled. The World Cup will need every penny it can get if insurance cover for the tournament turns out to be as prohibitive as some fear.
Marcel Martin, RWC's commercial director, commented archly: 'There is no more acrimony between myself and Dr Luyt than there is between some rugby players on any pitch on a Saturday afternoon. Everyone is fighting for his own team. Sometimes there are heated exchanges and at the end of the game we have a drink in the bar.' Even so, there is an unavoidable feeling that Luyt has been trying to hijack the World Cup, a feeling shared in South Africa by many outside Transvaal.
'You can't dispute that Dr Luyt is a very sharp businessman; sometimes he doesn't do things the way you and I might do it,' Labuschagne said. 'Transvaal has the major share of any income generated because of holding the final there as well as pool games, and they also have the stadium. The other unions are not very happy about it.'
Sir Ewart said yesterday that the only deadline facing Rugby World Cup was 31 December 1995, by which date the tournament had to have been played, though here there was no mention of South Africa. In fact it is understood that next 1 June has been unofficially decided as the deadline for a final decision.
Labuschagne said he had consulted Nelson Mandela, the president of the African National Congress, the South African State President F W de Klerk and Chief Mangosutu Butheleizi, of Inkatha, and they all wanted the World Cup to take place as arranged. The Springboks are due to open the tournament against the holders, Australia, in Cape Town on 25 May 1995, with the final on 24 June.
'We're not being stupid about it,' Labuschagne said. 'We think about it and talk about it all the time. One hopes things go ahead as planned but in any business decision there is an element of risk. When the risk is higher, the return can be greater.'
Before then, though, comes the election. 'You can't prejudge a situation like that. You are possibly going to have reaction from the lunatic fringes but in the long term I'm very confident that things in South Africa will settle down and the country prosper.'
Sir Ewart added: 'We know that there are many problems that will have to be overcome.'
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