HK's World Cup dream 'not over'
Hong Kong will continue to play an important role in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, says HKRFU chairman Trevor Gregory - despite the re-election of Bernard Lapasset as IRB chairman for a second four-year term.
Frenchman Lapasset beat by 14 votes to 12 former England captain Bill Beaumont, who was IRB vice-chairman. It was perceived in some quarters that if Lapasset was re-elected, it would be a blow to Hong Kong's hopes of staging a few games, or even a pool, at the World Cup hosted by Japan. The Asian Rugby Football Union (ARFU) had thrown its weight behind Beaumont.
Gregory nevertheless said the city could provide the commercial edge necessary to make the 2019 World Cup a resounding success, and called on the Hong Kong government to start work on a proposed 55,000-seater stadium at the former Kai Tak airport site as soon as possible.
'Hong Kong has a proven track record of hosting major rugby internationals, and if we have a bigger stadium ready by 2019, we can help improve the commercial aspect for the World Cup,' Gregory said.
The International Rugby Board has asked for a GBP96 million (HK$1.17 billion) guarantee from Japan for the World Cup. It is understood that the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) is unhappy at having to guarantee this huge amount - already reduced from GBP120 million - due to poor worldwide economic conditions and the country's struggle to re-emerge from the tsunami disaster.
'The Rugby World Cup guarantee is just that - a guarantee that the money will be paid in case tickets are not sold,' said Dominic Rumbles, IRB head of communications.
'The World Cup revenues are then reinvested by the IRB for growing and developing the game in the likes of Asia.'
With Hong Kong having staged two Bledisloe Cup games, Gregory believes the city can help meet any financial obligations set for the World Cup: 'A few stadiums in Japan will not have sufficient capacity, and they might even struggle to attract a full house,' he said. 'If we have a 50,000- to 55,000-seater stadium ready by 2019, I'm confident we can fill them.
'This huge guarantee the IRB is asking from Japan can only come from ticket sales, and we have tested our levels of pricing.
'We have been able to turn Hong Kong into a successful destination for rugby and the fans will turn up. I believe we will continue to play a crucial role in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
'I don't think we have burned any bridges with the IRB or Japan.
'Yes, ARFU supported Beaumont, but we have done nothing wrong. We were always going to live with whatever the result.'
Despite the ARFU council's support for Beaumont, Japan had backed incumbent Lapasset, resulting in the JRFU putting forward its own man - Koji Tokumasu - for the position of ARFU representative on the IRB council. Tokumasu defeated Gregory in an election held last month in Laos. It is believed that, contrary to ARFU's wishes, Tokumasu voted for Lapasset.
Beaumont lost his position as vice-chairman to Oregan Hoskins, South Africa Rugby Union president, in another close election. After two rounds of voting ended tied 13-13, Lapasset used his tiebreaking vote to elect Hoskins.
Lapasset will begin his second four-year term on January 1. He said the IRB's task in the upcoming term was to continue to take the game to new countries while balancing that expansion with financial discipline.
'We have fantastic opportunities to grow the game, to reach new markets and welcome new members to the rugby family,' Lapasset said.
Beaumont will remain on the IRB executive committee, along with Lapasset, Hoskins and chief executive Mike Miller.
The other representatives on the committee will be Tatsuzo Yabe (Japan), Giancarlo Dondi (Italy), Peter McGrath (Australia), Peter Boyle (Ireland), Graham Mourie (New Zealand) and Bob Latham (North America Caribbean Rugby Association).
Amount, in pounds sterling, the England RFU will have to guarantee the IRB gets in 2015
- New Zealand had to put down ?56 million