World Cup organisers defend venue selection
October 8, 2012
Leicester Tigers' Welford Road will not host any games during the 2015 Rugby World Cup © Getty Images
World Cup chiefs have defended their decision to include just one traditional club rugby ground on their list of potential venues for the 2015 tournament in England.
Gloucester's Kingsholm Stadium is the only Premiership ground named among 17 possible venues for the 48-match tournament with the biggest club rugby ground in the country - Leicester's Welford Road - failing to make the grade.
England Rugby 2015 (ER2015), the organisers of the sport's next global gathering, made no apologies about their decision to ignore one of the most historic grounds in the country and insisted that the need to offset the £80m hosting fee and their desire to make the tournament as accessible as possible were the over-riding criteria.
"We couldn't meet all the financial commitments if we were just using Premiership rugby grounds, it would be impossible, we would have to charge tens of thousands of pounds per ticket " insisted ER2015 chief operating officer Ross Young who aims to sell in the region of 2.9m tickets in a bid to generate what they hope will be a £100m profit. "Doing it the way we are doing it we will hopefully meet all our financial commitments and give both existing rugby supporters and new rugby supporters the best experience we can by using high quality large venues all over the country."
While Young hinted at concern about the development of Welford Road and in particular the Crumbie Stand that dates from the 1920s, the 24,000 capacity was not the main problem that surfaced from an extensive venue audit - it was the size of the pitch. "What's happened with previous World Cups and what we have been asked to do again is to be as consistent as possible with sizes and hopefully end up with no more than two pitch sizes and that was the criteria we were working towards," explained Young.
"Now 100m x 70m at the likes of Twickenham and Millennium will work and the other configuration we are working towards at the other grounds is 95m x 68m. If you try and overlay that on Welford Road there is no room basically."
The list, that also includes Wembley Stadium, is dominated by football grounds with five Premier League clubs represented in the form of Villa Park, Old Trafford, the Sports Direct Arena, St Mary's Stadium and the Stadium of Light despite doubts over the availability of those venues due to a clash with the start of the football season while the Olympic Stadium also makes the grade with the long-term future of that venue also unclear.
Outside of the Premier League, ER2015 have also included the Amex Stadium in Brighton, Bristol City's Ashton Gate, Pride Park in Derby, Coventry's Ricoh Arena, Elland Road in Leeds, Leicester's King Power Stadium and Stadium MK in Milton Keynes with all agreeing to strip sponsor names should they make the eventual list of 10-12 venues for the tournament itself that will be announced in the Spring.
Young insisted that their preference was not an "indictment" on the club game with only two such venues in the selection mix to begin with. And he is still keen to draw on the experience and expertise at English rugby's leading clubs to bolster ER2015's quest to 'engage' the nation with many in line to serve as training bases for competing nations.
"Because there is only one club venue we certainly want to work and engage with them to allow both of us to get mutual benefit," added Young. "There is a great fan base and we want to use that data and give them the ability to build on that data on the back of the World Cup being hosted here and allow them to drive and improve the size of their existing venues.
"There are a number of other ways we can work with the clubs and I don't think it is an indictment on the club game in this country. It makes sense because it meets the philosophy in terms of the engagement and geographical spread."
Young also revealed that negotiations with the Premier League were ongoing and was hopeful for a positive resolution. "We've had detailed discussions with them since the start of the year and continue to do so," he said.
"They need comfort that we are not going to interfere with the football schedule. They will not have their finalised schedule until June 2015 but what they can do is give us the guarantee that they will not place games there [at chosen grounds] once we have made the final selection."
The long list of venues selected by ER 2015 and approved by the RWCL Board is as follows:
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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