Thu, Apr 12, 2018 - Page 16 News List

US bid to host Rugby World Cup may be on horizon

AFP, LOS ANGELES

Kenya’s Billy Odhiambo, right, is tackled by Fiji’s Samisoni Viriviri on Sunday in their World Rugby Sevens Series match at Hong Kong Stadium.

Photo: Reuters

World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper believes this year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco could ignite interest in the sport across the US, raising the possibility of a US bid for the 15-a-side World Cup in 2027.

Yesterday marked the 100-day countdown to the seventh edition of rugby’s four-yearly sevens spectacular, which is to be staged at San Francisco’s iconic AT&T Park baseball stadium from July 20 to July 22.

Gosper said that ticket sales for the three-day event had already reached 60,000 and World Rugby is anticipating a sell-out for the opening day.

The tournament is being staged as rugby enjoys a surge in popularity in the US, buoyed by the success of the men’s sevens team and greater exposure of the sport than ever before.

NBC television is to broadcast the World Cup Sevens, and in recent years has begun live broadcasts of English Premiership rugby and the Six Nations.

Recent research commissioned by World Rugby found there were about 33 million rugby union fans in the US who described themselves as either very interested or interested in the sport.

Gosper believes July’s tournament in California can be a “game changer” for rugby union in the US.

“It’s something that can ignite the sport in the US,” he said. “We know there is latent support for rugby in the United States. So seeing rugby almost normalized in an American context, in an iconic American stadium, with free-to-air coverage on NBC television, promoted by NBC, I think will be quite a game changer for the sport.”

“We’re realistic. It’s only three days and you can’t change the world in three days, but you can light something and create a detonator for greater things later. It will give people more confidence to host more events in America,” Gosper added.

That something could conceivably be a bid for rugby union’s greatest tournament, the World Cup.

The next edition of the tournament is to take place in Japan next year, with France hosting the 2023 event.

Gosper believes that a US bid for 2027 is by no means outside the realms of possibility.

“There is a general belief across the people running the sport that America’s time will come, probably sooner rather than later,” Gosper said. “We know that we’ve got a World Cup in Japan in 2019, we’re going to France in 2023. Is 2027 a possibility? I don’t think that’s out of the question.”

“They’ll have to go some to get there, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be candidates in 2027,” Gosper said.

A successful World Cup in Japan — the first time the tournament has been staged outside of its traditional markets — could give a powerful jolt of momentum for a US bid, Gosper said.

“A big success in a country like Japan would be noticed by other non-traditional markets,” Gosper said. “It would be hugely inspiring for other tier-two markets, like the United States, to attempt a similar undertaking.”

Meanwhile, Gosper said the format used at this year’s World Cup Sevens — a straight knockout competition featuring 24 teams which was designed with a US audience in mind — could eventually be introduced across World Rugby’s HSBC Sevens Circuit.

“Each game counts, which we know is something more interesting for the Americans,” Gosper said. “I wouldn’t call it a trial, but it’s likely that this format moves into the general HSBC Sevens series in the next cycle.”

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