USA Rugby is in better shape as it emerges from bankruptcy and should bid to host an upcoming World Cup to provide “a great growth engine for the sport,” rugby’s leading executive said Monday.
World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper strongly urged U.S. rugby leaders to put together a candidacy for either the 2027 or 2031 tournaments, which would enable a sport beset by financial concerns amid a pandemic a better chance to break into a largely untapped market in North America.
“There is no commercial market like the United States,” Gosper said in a video call. “That doesn’t mean it’s an easy market to break into, but it would appear it needs the force of something as substantial as a Rugby World Cup to really realize their potential.”
USA Rugby filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March — soon after the coronavirus outbreak — following years of increased training expenditures, sponsor pull-back and losses from a poorly attended Wales-South Africa test in Washington last year.
With the help of funding from World Rugby, the federation is getting back on its feet and is conducting a feasibility study to determine whether to bid for the 2027 or 2031 World Cup. A ’27 tournament would place it between a soccer World Cup partly staged in the United States in 2026 and the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.
The process of talking to prospective nations will begin in February, with the formal candidate process starting three months later.
“They are definitely rebounding well in terms of their governance structures,” Gosper said, “and they certainly have ambition around that Rugby World Cup area.
“I think things are well set up and well-structured, and certainly coming out of the challenges they had financially, they are much more fit for purpose to be a strong force going forward.”
Gosper was speaking exactly a year since the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was held in Japan as World Rugby sought to give the sport a bigger presence in Asia.
He said the 2019 tournament helped Japan go from being rugby’s “No. 7 broadcast market to being No. 3 — and not that far behind the broadcast markets of the U.K. and France.”
Brazil and China are other markets World Rugby wants to break into, but the United States has long held a special status in the eyes of the world governing body.
Rugby 7s events have been well-attended, including the 2018 World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, while NBC aired 221 hours of rugby in 2019 — seven times more than it did in 2014.
“I think the (World Rugby) council would recognize that if they were able to put together an attractive bid, which I think is possible,” Gosper said, “that would provide a great growth engine for the sport, in all areas — not just Rugby World Cup but all other properties, to national leagues and other international competitions.”
Central to Bill Beaumont’s re-election as chairman of World Rugby this year was his appetite to unite the northern and southern hemispheres in one global calendar. Talks surrounding a proposed Nations Championship, containing 12 of the sport’s leading countries — including maybe the U.S. — and potentially backed by private finance worth $7.5 billion over 12 years, broke down in 2019 over disagreements about who would be involved and whether it would feature aspects like promotion and relegation.
Gosper said conversations between the unions and various competitions continue but are “still in the kitchen” and would unlikely bring about any meaningful changes until 2024.
“There is an urgency to get these things done,” he said, in light of the financial predicament rugby federations across the world find themselves in.
Gosper said World Rugby has distributed $100 million from a relief fund to around 30 unions across six regions.
“Hopefully we can see this through if things start to get back to normality, whatever that is, halfway through next year,” he added.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80