Wrong decisions can turn out right
Admit it, we have no idea what the world is going to look like in six years' time. I haven't a clue what it will be like in one year's time so figuring out six years is an act of pure conceit.
Ten months ago, Tunisia's Ben Ali, Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak were safely buffered in their despotic and opulent ways. Today, Ali is in exile in Saudi Arabia, images of Gaddafi's mutilated corpse are everywhere while a considerably frail Mubarak is facing charges of corruption and murder after his government collapsed. Even tyrants know the future is a crapshoot at best.
Six years ago the International Rugby Board (IRB) met in Dublin to award the rights to host the 2011 World Cup. Japan, South Africa and New Zealand were the three candidates with the Japanese a decided favourite.
Having co-hosted soccer's World Cup in 2002, Japan already had the necessary sporting infrastructure in place. And with the IRB repeatedly stating the need to take the game to new frontiers, as well as the fact Japan had more registered rugby players than world power Australia, it all seemed like a fait accompli. But the Kiwis pulled it out with Japan suggesting it was a case of rugby's old-boys' network supporting one of their own.
'I think in the short term, obviously an opportunity's been missed,' said Australian Rugby Union director Gary Flowers, who had voted for Japan. 'That was very much in our thinking in terms that the World Cup is the jewel in the crown of rugby and it was a good opportunity to grow our game. But that's not how the votes fell.'
And I recall writing words to that effect at the time as well. Rugby had become stagnant on an international level. We had the Home Nations, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand dominating both on the pitch and in the hosting. Yet 60 per cent of the world lives in Asia and you need to do more than show your event on TV here to grow the game. If you wanted to put the 'world' back in the World Cup then Japan was the only choice. Today, I still don't think awarding New Zealand the 2011 World Cup was the right choice. It was, however, an extremely fortunate one.
Who knew six years ago that in 2011 Japan would be decimated by one of the greatest natural disasters of our time with over 30,000 people dying? In 2005, the Japanese yen was trading at 118 to one US dollar. Today it is at 75 to one, which means that most foreigners travelling to Japan, even those whose currency has been fairly strong lately, would only be getting around 60 cents to their dollar and all this in a county that is exceedingly expensive to begin with. Imagine rugby fans from all over the world flocking to Japan over the past month and a half when most of the rail lines in the north were still shut down and reports of widespread radiation leaks were rife. Japan is not ready for the world right now. Not fiscally, not structurally and definitely not emotionally.
New Zealand had some serious issues as well. A February earthquake in Christchurch killed 181 people in the second-deadliest natural disaster in the country's history. According to Prime Minister John Key: 'This may well be New Zealand's darkest day.' Christchurch was set to host five pool matches and two quarter-finals but those were moved because of structural damage to the stadium. However, the IRB and New Zealand organisers were quick to confirm the tournament would go on as scheduled.
One of the original knocks on the New Zealand bid had been their antiquated stadiums and infrastructure but by the time the tournament kicked off everything seemed to be up to snuff. Fans flocked from all over the world to enjoy the matches as well as this spectacularly scenic and resilient country. But there was one not so small issue that still needed to be resolved and that was the home side emerging victorious. This is a rugby country first and foremost and the All Blacks are revered much in the same way the Brazilian soccer team are in that country.
Their meeting in the final against France was a surprisingly spectacular battle. I'm still sore. Every part of my body aches just from watching. It was without a doubt one the most physically intense matches of any kind I have ever seen. When the All Blacks emerged victorious by a single point over a gallant French team, not only did the country exhale for the first time in months, it lifted their forlorn spirits in a way that only sports can. And who knew six years ago that this World Cup would be the perfect balm for a battered country?
The tournament is off to England in 2015 before finally arriving in Japan in 2019. Here's hoping it will symbolise the long-overdue growth of rugby and nothing more than that for Japan, because none of us truly knows what the world will look like in eight years' time.