CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — After failing with three successive bids, South Africa was recommended on Tuesday as the best host for the 2023 Rugby World Cup ahead of France and Ireland.
World Rugby released a bid evaluation report by its experts and external consultants, and said South Africa was the unanimous pick.
The final decision will be made on Nov. 15 in London in a secret ballot of World Rugby council members. The recommendation by the board of Rugby World Cup Limited, a World Rugby subsidiary, is expected to be rubber-stamped, though.
"The comprehensive and independently scrutinized evaluation reaffirmed that we have three exceptional bids but it also identified South Africa as a clear leader based on performance against the key criteria," World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.
South Africa hosted and won the Rugby World Cup in 1995, a tournament made memorable by the appearance of the late Nelson Mandela at the final in Johannesburg wearing a Springboks jersey. That '95 World Cup is still ranked by many as the best ever, both for the emotion that surrounded the tournament and for its relative financial success.
France hosted as recently as 2007, while Ireland hopes to host for the first time.
This is South Africa's fourth attempt to host again after failing with bids for the 2011, 2015 and 2019 tournaments. The next World Cup, in 2019, will be in Japan.
South Africa's 2023 bid played heavily off the memories of '95, as well as its recent success in hosting the 2010 soccer World Cup, and its favorable exchange rate, which promises a cheaper World Cup experience for traveling fans than one in Europe.
South Africa said in its bid presentation that its World Cup would be a "triple win" for World Rugby, promising record gate receipts for matches, a tourist destination experience for fans, and a tournament focused on providing top-quality facilities for players to perform.
In the bid criteria, South Africa led in venues and host cities, tournament infrastructure, and organization and schedule. France was better for finance, commercial and government commitments, and the vision and hosting concept. South Africa scored 78.97 percent, France 75.88, and Ireland 72.25.
"We are 100 percent confident that the commitments we made in our document will be delivered," SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said in a statement. "We will make all of world rugby proud of South Africa 2023."
French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte told a news conference that he was "surprised, shaken ... a little bit shocked as well" with the outcome of the evaluation.
"We didn't think we'd been behind South Africa in terms of organizing competitions. Football, handball, rugby, France has shown for many years that it knows how to organize events. Surprised, also, to be beaten on host cities and stadiums," he said.
Laporte added that "it's only a recommendation, and certain presidents of federations will vote for us. We've had several of them on the phone this morning and they've assured us of their support."
Despite finishing third in the scoring, Ireland also wasn't giving up hope.
"We absolutely believe Ireland can secure the tournament for 2023," Ireland Rugby Football Union chairman Dick Spring said. "Our team will compete to the final whistle as we bid to turn our historic bid plans into reality."
Crucially for South Africa's bid, it received support from the government, unlike the country's failed attempt to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games in the east coast city of Durban. Durban was stripped of the games after being awarded them because of a lack of financial guarantees. There were fears in South Africa that the aborted Commonwealth Games hosting might adversely affect the Rugby World Cup bid.
But SA Rugby president Mark Alexander said on Tuesday that the support of the government was "critical" for the rugby bid. South Africa deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and sports minister Thulas Nxesi accompanied the SA Rugby delegation to present the bid to World Rugby in London last month. Sports minister Nxesi welcomed the news that South Africa was the preferred bidder at a media conference at South Africa's parliament building in Cape Town later Tuesday.
South Africa offered a financial sweetener to World Rugby, as did the other countries, promising $52 million more to the international rugby body than the minimum guarantee of $158 million required to host rugby's top event.
SA Rugby said it forecast another $80 million in profit for World Rugby from hospitality sales and savings on event costs because of South Africa's favorable exchange rate.
"We trust now that the World Rugby council will follow through by voting to confirm what the experts have identified, that a South African Rugby World Cup in 2023 is the best result for rugby," Roux said.