The contingencies have been worked through, the infrastructure and facilities laid down.
The Rugby World Cup opens on Friday at Twickenham and the organiser, England Rugby 2015, is apprehensive about the hordes set to descend on south-west London during rush hour. But they insist they are ready.
“We’re always worried about moving 82,000-plus in and out of a city,” said Stephen Brown, the managing director of England Rugby 2015, “but we do it all the time here. The late kick-offs are a challenge for us, there’s no question about it, but this [Friday] is the hard one. It’s the big event, with the opening ceremony, so it starts a bit earlier. We need people in their seats by 6.30, so it’s going to be tough. But we’re ready for it.”
Regulars at Twickenham will know of the various tactics on offer to avoid the crush at the station, almost all a variation around delaying engagement for as long as possible – in other words, loitering in bars and pubs, either at the ground or in the town centre. But most matches at Twickenham kick off in the afternoon. The tactics available are severely restricted when the games do not finish until 10pm, as will be the case for the first four matches there at this World Cup.
“We’ve done everything we can,” said Brown of the likely pressures on transport. “We can’t have any more trains; there’s no more buses; no more park and ride. We’ve got all the capacity we can into the system, not just at Twickenham but in Birmingham and in Cardiff. It’s more than has been done normally for internationals, because we have such a different audience and look and feel.”
Those measures equate to an extra 10-20% more trains passing through Twickenham on Friday night, as well as a range of dedicated buses that will convey passengers from the stadium direct to Waterloo, some via Richmond. Brown was able to allay concerns that the local pubs would be forced to shut at 10pm, as they were for the England-France warm-up international in August, which also kicked off at 8pm.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about that. There’s an open and flexible situation. If the bars are full up, they’re not going to want to let anyone else in anyway, but there’s not going to be a strict curfew. That was the situation for one of the warm-up matches. It was the local authorities’ call. We’ll see no restrictions, unless there’s huge demand on the police, and the authorities need to manage it.”
The A316, one of the principal arteries leading out of south-west London, and adjoining roads have been plastered with signs for some time, warning commuters to stay away. Indeed, the stretch of the A316 adjacent to the stadium will be closed from 4pm to 11.45pm. Brown is confident, if only from anecdotal evidence, that most commuters will have made alternative plans to return home, but this Friday remains a one-off for which there is no precedent. Brown, one suspects, will sleep more easily once it has passed.
Already he can say he is administering a World Cup that is the biggest yet. Ticket sales are now at 94% of capacity. By the end of Tuesday, 2.3m of the 2.45m were sold, surpassing the 2.25m that were sold for the World Cup in France in 2007. The tournament will be broadcast to 772m households, an increase of more than 15% on 2011’s tournament, with games shown live for the first time in Germany (24 of them) and China (22).
Whether or not the remaining tickets can be shifted will depend to an extent on how many more people can be found to pay prices well in excess of £100. Brett Gosper, the chief executive of World Rugby, defended the pricing strategy, which has been prompted in no small part by the £80m the organisers are obliged to return to World Rugby for the right to stage the event.
“We believe the tournament to be competitively priced,” said Gosper. “Tickets haven’t gone up other than by inflation for the last two World Cups. The demand would imply that we’ve priced them at the right levels. We’ve benchmarked the tickets against some of the biggest tournaments there are, whether it be Fifa, Olympics or Wimbledon – we’re incredibly competitive against that. We believe we’ve made this as accessible as we possibly can.”
Cardiff and Leicester are the venues with most tickets still available, the Leicester City Stadium having been a particularly controversial choice among the locals over the neighbouring rugby stronghold of Welford Road. Whether or not they end up able to describe the tournament as a sellout, however, the organisers remain adamant they are ready for it.
This article was written by Michael Aylwin, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 15th September 2015 22.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010