Washington, United States: US rugby chiefs formally launched a bid to stage the Rugby World Cup on Wednesday, boldly predicting that bringing the sport to American soil for the first time could be a turning point for the game.
At a launch presentation in Washington, USA Rugby detailed plans to stage the men’s World Cup either in 2027 or 2031, as well as the women’s tournament in 2029, utilising NFL stadia across the country.
“This is a proud moment as we introduce our vision for a Rugby World Cup on American soil,” USA Rugby World Cup Bid chair Jim Brown said.
“After working on this for a year now, we are confident in the strength of this bid, the support around us, the cities and stadiums interested in hosting, our country’s top-level infrastructure for large-scale sports events and the opportunity the US population of sports fans presents for rugby’s growth, both domestically and globally.”
Brown said although bids for the 2027 or 2031 men’s tournaments were on the table, 2031 was seen as the likelier option.
“Over the course of the last six or seven months, I think it’s clear to say that our preference is 2031 given the extra time we might want to focus on developing the game, and the market for rugby,” Brown said.
A total of 28 cities have expressed interest in staging World Cup games, with venues including recent Super Bowl hosts such as Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco and Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.
If the World Cup is staged in its traditional window in September and October, a US tournament would be vying for competition with both the NFL and US college gridiron seasons — two of the most popular sports in the US.
Nevertheless Brown said there was no question of seeking to shift the tournament to another slot.
“We are prepared to deliver the World Cup in its traditional window,” he said. “We are confident we can do it in September and October and that’s our focus.”
Brown noted that several NFL franchises were leading bids to stage World Cup games, notably the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.
“Part of our approach to the host cities and stadiums is that they are going to be partners with us,” he said.
“In the case of San Francisco, the group leading the bid is the 49ers. In Boston it’s the Kraft family and the (New England) Patriots. Our success is their success.”
Brown expressed confidence that one potential sticking point — the narrower width of NFL pitches — would not be an issue. Of the 28 stadiums under consideration as venues, 20 already comply or have plans to widen their pitches.
Australia is widely considered to be the front-runner to win the rights to stage the 2027 tournament, with Russia the only other country to have expressed interest after Argentina scrapped plans to stage the tournament.
Rugby has enjoyed steady growth in popularity in the United States in recent years, with the launch of a professional league and test matches such as Ireland’s 2016 victory over New Zealand, which played out before a packed house at Chicago’s Solider Field.
Wednesday’s announcement comes just days before the All Blacks face the US Eagles at FedEx Field, home of the NFL’s Washington Football Team.
San Francisco also successfully hosted the Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2018, encouraging talk of a bid for the 15-a-side World Cup.
World Rugby is keen to take its flagship tournament to new territories as it attempts to grow the sport, successfully staging the event in Japan in 2019, the first time a Rugby World Cup has been held outside Europe or Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
USA Rugby chief executive Ross Young — who worked as general manager for Rugby World Cup for the 2003, 2007 and 2011 tournaments — said a US event could elevate rugby in the same way that the 1994 World Cup in the US and 1999 women’s World Cup had boosted football.
“It goes without saying that well-delivered, professional, high profile events generate growth and interest in the game,” he said.
“Just like the US World Cups in 1994 and 1999 — the knock-on benefits that’s had for soccer in the US, in terms of MLS and women’s soccer.”