Rugby World Cup will regret focus on football grounds – Leicester chief

The decision to choose mainly football stadiums to host Rugby World Cup matches in 2015 was inevitably going to cause a major headache for organisers, according to the Leicester Tigers chief executive, Simon Cohen.

On Tuesday, Manchester United pulled out of the running to stage matches due to scheduling issues and concerns about the effects on their Old Trafford pitch, and Rugby World Cup Limited is now in discussions with Manchester City regarding the use of the Etihad Stadium.

Leicester's Welford Road had been under consideration by the competition organisers. However, although RWCL was keen to include the ground, it did not meet the required criteria. Instead, Leicester's King Power Stadium, where the Tigers have played Heineken Cup matches, was added to the longlist of 17 venues that will be cut by five this month.

"You can tell from the sense of outrage that greeted their original decision to exclude Welford Road that Leicester fans, but not exclusively Leicester fans, felt it was wrong not to include rugby grounds," said Cohen. "Welford Road is pretty atmospheric and would be a great place to host a World Cup game.

"As Manchester United have proved, even when you have a deal in principle it's difficult to see, when you get to the detail of it, how a Premiership football club is going to be able to commit to having a match on their ground potentially the day before they have a football game. I would have thought all football grounds would have that problem. The Premiership football grounds won't have too much of an issue with rugby going after one of their games, but they won't want rugby to be played before one of their games."

Only three dedicated rugby grounds were on RWCL's original longlist – Twickenham, the Millennium Stadium and Gloucester's Kingsholm. These have been joined by Exeter's Sandy Park, which may take the place of Ashton Gate in Bristol.

"It's a shame that both the criteria and financial considerations exclude a ground that we feel is the best club rugby stadium in the UK," added Cohen. "I know how difficult it is to put these bids together but there is a huge support for rugby in this part of the east Midlands. I think fans would have come to Welford Road to see games. They may not travel to other stadiums in the east Midlands to see the same games."

World Cup organisers need to sell 2.9m tickets to meet the £80m fee promised to the International Rugby Board when the rights to host the tournament were awarded. There will be 88 games, although ticket prices have not yet been set.

There is also an issue regarding whether Wales play matches at the Millennium Stadium, which would most likely increase ticket sales at the 72,500-capacity ground. There are no regulations that prevent Wales from playing in Cardiff, although there is an argument that this would provide them with an unfair advantage.

The government could refuse a request from the World Cup organisers to make ticket touting illegal during the tournament, due to concerns that it would put serious demands on police and set a precedent for future competitions.

The sports minister, Hugh Robertson, said: "There is quite a basket of issues, it is not as simple as a one-off application for a Rugby World Cup. In an ideal situation Rugby World Cup 2015 would have a ban on all the ticket touting and we will look at this. However, to pass any sort of primary legislation you have to prove that it is absolutely necessary, you just can't pass laws on the off chance.

"You have really got to prove it is necessary. You can understand why the IRB would want it, you can understand why the organising committee would want it. They would have to prove there is an absolute need. In concert with the police we would also have to be sure that the law we pass is enforceable."

Organisers of the Rugby League World Cup, which will be staged in England, Wales, Ireland and France this year, confirmed that Manchester United remain happy to stage their final on 30 November – as well as the Super League Grand Final eight weeks earlier – and that they have sold more than 40,000 tickets for the match.

That is a stark and highly encouraging contrast to the last time the tournament was staged in the northern hemisphere, in 2000, when tickets to the final between Australia and New Zealand were given out free in the Manchester Evening News in the days before the match. This year's final is already guaranteed to beat the attendance for that game of 44,329 and almost certainly the 50,599 for the final of the last league World Cup in Brisbane in 2008.

Powered by article was written by James Riach, for The Guardian on Wednesday 3rd April 2013 22.47 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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