FRANCE WINS RIGHT TO HOST THE 2007 RUGBY WORLD CUP
Story by: AAP
France won the right to host the 2007 Rugby World Cup on Thursday, beating out a rival bid from England.
The International Rugby Board`s council voted 18-3 in favour of France, which will stage the event for the first time in September and October 2007.
France`s bid for a traditional tournament format was preferred to England`s radical two-tier proposal.
"Council was overwhelmingly of the view that the structure should remain as it is, namely a tournament comprising 20 teams playing in four pools of five," IRB acting chairman Syd Millar said.
"Whilst the underlying concept of greater inclusiveness was appreciated, widespread soundings amongst the developing nations had in fact indicated a strong preference to maintain the current format.
"The dream of one day performing on a world stage alongside the giants of rugby sustains the aspirations of many of our most promising nations and their players."
Most games will be played in the same venues as the 1998 soccer World Cup, as well as matches in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Dublin. Twickenham, just outside London, has been shut out.
French cities to host games are Bordeaux, Lens, Lyon, Marseilles, Montpellier, Nantes, St. Etienne, Toulouse and Paris` Parc des Princes stadium. The final will be at the Stade de France, which was built to host the 1998 soccer World Cup and stages this year`s athletics World Championships.
"This decision illustrates the qualities of our country and its capacity to host major sporting events," said French French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.
"This World Cup will be the opportunity to showcase the regions of France where the wonderful sport of rugby is deeply rooted."
While the French had lost their Six Nations Grand Slam title to the English, this more than made up for it.
"France has shown its quality to organise major sporting events in the past," French Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour said.
"The organisation of this World Cup will shine over all of France because 10 French towns have the privilege of organising matches and to be in the world`s spotlight."
England`s bid involved a tournament makeover. It wanted the leading 16 nations to contest the World Cup, and an eight-team pool to replace the knockout quarterfinal stage. At the same time, 20 emerging countries would compete for a so-called Nations Cup. That would mean 88 games in 45 days.
England`s Rugby Football Union congratulated France.
"We are sure it will be an excellent competition," RFU chairman Graeme Cattermole said.
"We put together what we considered to be an excellent bid. I have no doubt that we would have delivered. I am obviously disappointed. We felt that this was a real opportunity to bring innovation and to take a leading role helping the smaller playing nations.
"We listened to what the smaller nations said and maybe given time and more lateral thinking, it will come about."
Officials from Scotland, Ireland and Wales also congratulated the French and said they would benefit from the choice.
"The proposal by the French means more of those games will be allocated to Scotland than would have been the case if England had won," said Scottish sports minister Mike Watson.
"This is obviously good from the point of view of revenue for the game in Scotland and improves Scotland`s chances of doing well."
The Irish RFU said there was a chance Lansdowne Road might not be the only venue to be used in Ireland.
"We believe France are deserving of the tournament given their history and contribution to the game and more so that their package includes pool matches to be played in Ireland which is something that can only be good for the propagation of the game and for the marketing potential of Irish rugby," the IRFU said in a statement.
"The option of bringing World Cup matches to the provinces, as happened in 1999, would be looked at."
Welsh RU chief executive David Moffett said the French had honoured a deal set up after they had hosted the 1999 World Cup final at Cardiff`s Millennium Stadium.
"We are very pleased with the outcome of the vote because we feel the French solution answers all our rugby questions and will address all our financial issues," he said.
"The French Rugby Union are to be commended for completely honouring the deal we struck with them as host Union in 1999, when the WRU agreed to share the matches and profit from the tournament with England, Scotland, Ireland and France.
"While the French received around 4 million pounds (US$6.2 million) from the profit-share scheme we set up, the projections being made in the French bid for 2007 look likely to net the WRU a near 7 million (US$10.85) return," Moffett said.
"We were very conscious of the needs of our fans and are delighted that the Millennium Stadium will host three pool matches and a quarterfinal."
There were 21 votes at stake at Thursday`s meeting. England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand had two votes each. The International Amateur Rugby Federation had one vote, along with Canada, Argentina, Japan and Italy.
Australia and New Zealand hosted the inaugural World Cup in 1987. England hosted in 1991 and shared matches with France, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
South Africa was the 1995 host, and in 1999, Wales hosted the tournament and gave games to France, Scotland, Ireland and England.
Defending champion Australia is staging this year`s event in October and November after its co-hosting deal with New Zealand fell through a year ago.