It’s four months since 18 September marked a year from the opening of RWC 2021.
Since then we have received three nuggety pieces of information from the Organising Committee: the opening match would take place at Eden Park; the draw was made; and the number of entrants would be raised to 16… in 2025.
Further news has been notable for its absence.
Of course the major stumbling block is the pandemic. But long before that the RWCOC needed to clarify how players were to deal with an absence from work longer than ever before (29 days as against 18 in 2017). That was a question that needed addressing from the start. Still leaving virus matters to one side, it meant that everyone would be away for well over a month. Acclimatisation must be carefully monitored.
Women rugby players have long been used to making big sacrifices for the game, including their job. It’s worrying to think how many who hope to take part in New Zealand might face that risk.
This really isn’t a responsibility that can be left to the individual unions. At the best of times few of them could afford to support their players as they might wish.
Then come the really tough questions
The presence of Covid-19 means:
1. The New Zealand government will be wary of entry conditions. Leo Varadkar, former taoiseach of Ireland, claims that NZ won’t open its borders till 2022. It will be interesting to see how rugby fares in the government’s scales of justice. Does it warrant an exception to the general rule? The prime minister did help at the draw in November.
2. Few if any nations will have enjoyed a preparation in line with what had originally been planned. Neither practice nor matches will have been laid on with the regularity expected before the biggest show on earth. Will the playing standards reached meet expectations?
3. The schedule for qualifying has been delayed and delayed. No date can possibly be set for a resumption for the foreseeable future. Dates now seem to reach into the depths of summer. Even then, will the competing nations be up to scratch for a crucial international played, in all likelihood, thousands of miles from home? Even if the RWCOC tried to simplify matters by asking the qualifiers to meet up at one venue, the logistics would be horribly complicated and expensive.
4. Quarantine, isolation and testing – three words with which we have become uncomfortably familiar. New Zealand prides itself on its battle against coronavirus. That means by extension that incoming teams must expect the most stringent controls. We will get a much better idea of the challenges involved once the England cricketers have settled in on the current tour down under. We cannot expect every player to survive the experience untroubled. If they are given entry to NZ, can Mr Varadkar’s claim be correct? At least there are exceptions for sportspeople.
5. Spectators – for those whose memories don’t stretch back that far, they are people who are actually allowed to watch games. They are commonplace in New Zealand, but what about the thousands who might be minded to fly in and support their team? It’s only when the British and Irish Lions are in town that the visiting team can expect massed backing. otherwise playing in NZ against any NZ side is the ultimate test. It’s not as if the Black Ferns are in urgent need of any advantage they can glean.
Surely the RWCOC owes it to its world public to let it know how things are faring, what alternatives they have in mind. There are eight members, all with extensive expertise in matters relating to the undertaking. A monthly update would be a welcome starting-point. Their website seems more concerned with tracking down all past and present All Blacks and Black Ferns. There are more important issues at stake.