Welsh remind England of deal for 1999 World Cup

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The Independent Online
RUGBY UNION : On the basis of an agreement made when the World Cup was young six years ago, Wales want England to give them a clear run when bids are made at the March annual meeting of the International Board to stage the 1999 World Cup.

In effect, the Welsh Rugby Union used yesterday's pre-Christmas press conference to launch its bid. The '99 tournament is likely to have the number of participating countries increased from 16 to 20.

The WRU is concerned that, although the Rugby Football Union hosted the 1991 final at Twickenham, an English bid will again be on the table. Wales deliberately gave England a clear run three years ago on the understanding that they would have the priority this time.

What has changed since then is that the RFU has rebuilt Twickenham so that from next year it will have a 75,000 all-seated capacity commensurate with a World Cup final, whereas Cardiff Arms Park remains stuck within its city-centre limits and holds only 52,000.

Hence the WRU's impatience to proceed either with redeveloping the Arms Park - the favoured option - or, sacrilege as it may be, relocating to a new site in Cardiff or beyond. By the end of next month, the union will have received seven architects' presentations.

"A decision was made as long ago as 1988 that if the Rugby World Cup finals came back to the UK the final would be played in Cardiff," Vernon Pugh, chairman of the WRU, said.

"For 1991 both England and Wales bid for the final and Wales withdrew their bid on the basis of that agreement. It may be that the people in charge of the RFU at the moment are not the ones who agreed. I am sure that once people are reminded of what tookplace, any potential for conflict will disappear."

Would that it were so simple. Pugh, who is chairman of the IB until the annual meeting, anticipates rival bids not only from England but also from France, which would have access to the stadium in the Paris suburbs being built for the 1998 football WorldCup, and Australia, where the Olympic Stadium for Sydney 2000 would be available by 1999.

Pugh said that he expected the home unions' position to be resolved at their next meeting in February. In any event, and whatever the future status of the Arms Park, if Wales were successful they would have to make use of grounds outside the Principality.

"Whichever country bids, whether it's England, Wales or Scotland, none could hold Rugby World Cup only within its own territory," Pugh said. "So it is necessary for each of those countries to use the facilities of the others and there has been agreement to the effect that, whichever of the home unions is the host union, the others would share by way of providing facilities."

Unusually for the modern sporting world, the WRU's plans for the Arms Park are not all-seater. More redolent of the new Twickenham, however, are the ancillary developments being considered - which, in one submission, include a hotel.

"We are also looking for other facilities: hospitality, museum, visitor attraction, enhanced shop capability," Glanmor Griffiths, the union's treasurer, said. "If we could achieve our objectives by the redevelopment of the existing ground, the preferred option would be to stay where we are."