Almost exactly a decade ago, England lost 17-3 in a Five Nations match at Lansdowne Road and forfeited their self-respect.
Almost exactly a decade ago, England lost 17-3 in a Five Nations match at Lansdowne Road and forfeited their self-respect. Yesterday, less than a mile up the road, they lost 18-3 in the fight to stage the 2007 World Cup – a serious political hammering by any standards – and saw a potential £40m disappear from the coffers of an impoverished global game. If Twickenham's top brass were taken aback by the scale of their defeat on the pitch in 1993, they were positively flabbergasted by these latest events in the boardroom. The ramifications could be enormous.
France will host the tournament in four years' time, with a little help from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of whom will be granted home matches. They were also backed by the southern hemisphere super-powers of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, plus the Italians, the Argentinians, the Japanese and FIRA, the Paris-based umbrella organisation representing Europe's second-tier nations. Only the Canadians threw in their lot with England, who could scarcely have fared worse in the final show of hands.
By way of rubbing salt in the wound, the International Rugby Board confirmed that the tournament would take place in September and October, thereby denying England the financial solace of three sell-out autumn internationals at Twickenham and interfering with professional club competitions for a third consecutive World Cup. "One of our big disappointments is that the issue of the tournament 'window' has not been taken on board," admitted Francis Baron, the chief executive of the Rugby Football Union and one of the architects of the failed bid. "The September-October option is the most expensive for the game as a whole. It will certainly cause difficulties in England."
The RFU's tender hit trouble the moment the IRB council rejected innovative plans to divide the tournament into two parallel events – a 16-team élite competition and a 20-team "Nations Cup" for the so-called developing countries – and play it in early summer in an effort to minimise disruption to the regular northern hemisphere season. Baron and his colleagues had insisted this format would generate a surplus of £111m, far greater than any previous World Cup and more than £40m greater than the more conservative French bid.
"When our preferred option was taken off the table the Celtic nations, who would have benefited considerably in financial terms, decided to look after their own interests," Baron said. "As the French had offered them pool matches in their own countries, I was not particularly surprised when they went with them. However, there are issues affecting the world game that will not go away. We wanted to use the World Cup as a lever to address those problems, many of them affecting the developing nations, but the IRB clearly felt it was a step too far at this time."
Bernard Lapasset, the super-suave president of the French Rugby Federation, declined to revel in England's almost total isolation, an isolation that has its roots in past rows over international funding arrangements and the management of the professional game. "This was not a victory over England, but a victory for one philosophy of the World Cup, one rationale, over another," he said. But he could not resist pouring just a soupçon of scorn on the English bid. "Our objective is to combine the two per cent of professional rugby nations with the 98 per cent of amateur nations. There is no superficial element, no artifice, attached to our project." Ouch.
It is now difficult to see how England can host a World Cup before 2015, for the 2011 tournament will almost certainly be awarded to one of the major southern hemisphere powers - quite possibly South Africa, who staged a stunning competition, by far the best of the four played so far, in 1995. Neither Baron nor Graeme Cattermole, the chairman of the RFU, ruled out an English bid for 2011, but Syd Millar, the vice-chairman of the IRB, gave the strongest of hints that European nations would have to wait their turn.
Millar defended the controversial, not to say deeply unsatisfactory, French ploy of offering pool matches beyond her borders. While the last World Cup in 1999, nominally a Welsh event, was furiously criticised for a hopelessly flawed structure that saw the Springboks based in Edinburgh and the Wallabies in Dublin, Millar insisted that rugby had "entered a new, more professional era" and needed the "broadest possible coverage". He also rejected the notion that the three Celtic nations would have an unfair advantage by playing in their own capitals.
The only Six Nations powers who will not play in their own backyards are Italy and, more to the point, a chastened England. No wonder Lapasset left Dublin with a smile on his face.
The winning bid
* 20-team format.
* 48 matches between 7 September and 20 October,
* Wales, Scotland and Ireland have three first-round matches each, plus a quarter-final in the Millennium Stadium.
* French stadiums: Marseille, Montpellier, Toulouse, Lens, St Etienne, Lyon, Stade de France and Parc des Princes.
Dashed dreams: Other major events Britain sought and lost
2006 World Cup (Football)
The FA decided to bid despite an apparent unwritten agreement that England would stay out of the running and support Germany. The Germans had supported England's successful Euro 96 bid. When voting day arrived, Germany surprisingly won the vote, beating the favourites South Africa. The English bid, which cost £10.77m, got five votes in the first round and dropped out in the second round with only two votes. At one stage the bid team had 17 full-time staff. The bid document alone cost £880,000.
2005 World Championships (Athletics)
Britain had given guarantees that it would stage the 2003 Championships in London but confusion over the precise venue saw that event go to Paris. Britain instead promised it would stage the 2005 event at a new stadium, Pickett's Lock, in east London. But the Pickett's Lock project was scrapped in 2001. Troubleshooter Patrick Carter said it was too costly and would struggle to be sustainable. The Government offered Sheffield as an alternative venue but the IAAF was unimpressed by the slapdash approach.
1992, 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games
The Government and the British Olympic Association, together with the cities of Birmingham (1992) and Manchester (1996 and 2000) spent millions on three unsuccessful bids for the Games. Denis Howell, leader of the 1992 bid, said he had 25 votes in the bag. Birmingham got eight. Manchester fared little better later. After losing out to Sydney for the 2000 Games, an IOC member told the British bid team: "We'll know you're serious when you come back with London."
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