Kai Tak key to World Cup hopes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 October, 2009, 12:00am

A new 50,000-seater stadium at Kai Tak would seal the deal for Hong Kong to host a pool of the 2019 World Cup, according to top official Trevor Gregory.

Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Gregory yesterday called for a pledge from the government for the venue to be ready, despite the stadium being earmarked for the third phase of construction at the old airport, with a completion date of 2021.

Gregory will meet his Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of tomorrow's Bledisloe Cup match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies in Tokyo to continue pressing claims to host a pool of the 2019 World Cup, which has been awarded to Japan. He said his task would be made easier if the government gave an assurance that the new stadium, which is part of the HK$100 billion Kai Tak development project, would be ready by 2019.

'If we can get a solid confirmation from the government the new stadium will be ready by 2019, then that would be the most compelling reason we can offer Japan, and ultimately the International Rugby Board, that the World Cup should be spread around Asia,' Gregory said.

'The last we heard was the stadium will now be ready by 2018. But we need a firm guarantee that this is the case. If we have a bigger stadium, with a minimum of 50,000 seats, we can sell more tickets, which would mean more financial reason to have the World Cup in Hong Kong.'

Hong Kong Stadium has a capacity of 40,000.

The Japanese Rugby Football Union had said Hong Kong and Singapore could host some matches in 2019. But tournament organiser the Rugby World Cup Ltd has stated a host country could not use outside venues unless there were compelling reasons. Gregory said the best assurance he could give Japanese officials would be a bigger and better stadium, which could translate into larger financial returns.

'They [JRFU] have not insisted we have a new stadium,' Gregory said. 'But it will make our case much stronger if the new facility is available. That will tick a big box if the government can guarantee the Kai Tak Stadium will be ready before 2019.'

JRFU chairman Nobby Mashimo said yesterday he would respect the decision of tournament organisers but underlined the importance of boosting the game across Asia.

'We will meet with the RWCL [Rugby World Cup Limited] next week and formally begin the planning process for 2019,' Mashimo said. 'The tournament may be 10 years away but while the IRB council ultimately decides on venues, it is our responsibility to highlight the legacy benefits for Asia.'

Japan and Hong Kong officials will be closely watching the English RFU, which as host of the 2015 World Cup, has asked to stage matches in Wales.

'The RWC wants compelling reasons for a host to move the tournament outside. What more compelling reason can we give them than the fact that it would spread the game around Asia,' Gregory added.

Mashimo, who will host IRB president Bernard Lapasset at the Bledisloe Cup, added:

'We plan to deliver a tournament that puts Japanese rugby on the world map and leaves a lasting legacy that will benefit Asia.'

Cup of dreams

Japan - and possibly Hong Kong - have this many years to prepare for the World Cup: 10