My love of sport and my politics collide relatively frequently, so much so that I'm occasionally tempted to start up a sports blog a la He Who Must Not Be Named. This week, however, they seem to be particularly intertwined. Which is fine, except that I'm now an Englishman representing a part of Wales, so some of those collisions can very easily get me into a lot of trouble, particularly where rugby is involved.
At club level, I feel I have a reasonable excuse, namely that I'm from Gloucester which means I bleed Cherry and White, especially when they face Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup later this year. I wish I could summon up the strength to support the Blues themselves, but as regionalisation is such an abomination I don't feel especially guilty about not cheering them on.
Internationally, the rift is perhaps even deeper because the country of my birth and the country of my home are represented by the RFU and WRU, who continue to fight a broad-fronted battle to see which of them can be the most incompetent bunch of useless morons (and trust me, that's the polite version...) I tend to support Italy and Argentina, because the future of the game depends far more on their success than the tribal battles of the M4 corridor.
Which leads us to the news that Wales has made two different bids to host the 2015 World Cup, in partnership with either England or Ireland and Scotland. Now let's be clear, I hope both those bids are irrelevant; after the corrupt way they were denied the 2011 World Cup, it is absolutely vital that Japan hosts in 2015 because, again, the game there needs the boost far more than the game in any of the home nations does.
Nevertheless, the bids are important, if only because they demonstrate that the WRU hasn't learnt the lessons of 1999. That World Cup was undoubtedly the worst in the tournament's history, not least because it only produced four games of any quality and none of those were in the host country (France beat Fiji 28-19 in the pool stage in Toulouse, Argentina beat Ireland 28-24 in the play-off in Lens, South Africa beat England 44-21 in the quarter-final in Paris and France beat New Zealand 43-31 in the semi-final at Twickenham).
By 2015, however, the factors that lead Wales to distribute the 1999 tournament to the four winds (lest we forget, in that tournament, Uruguay and Spain played in Galashiels!) will largely have disappeared. Instead of the mess of rickety old stadiums Wales had then, it will be packing;
- Millennium Stadium, Cardiff – 74,500 (1999)
- New Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff – 26,500 (2009)
- Liberty Stadium, Swansea – 20,532 (2005)
- New Newport Stadium, Newport – 15,000 (c2010)
- Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli – 14,340 (2008)
That's half a World Cup on its own just in South Wales, and the immediate question has to be, why on Earth are you including Scotland in your bid? Ireland on its own offers;
- Lansdowne Road, Dublin – 50,000 (2010)
- Thomond Park, Limerick – 26,500 (2008)
- Ravenhill, Belfast – 19,100
- Musgrave Park, Cork – c17,000 (c2010)
Add in the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham for another 15,500 and that's a World Cup right there.
But the clever thing would be to have a bid that transcended national borders and dealt purely in rugby borders. In reality, Welsh rugby's heartland is South Wales and only South Wales, which is where the five new purpose-built stadia are. What's more, that heartland borders its English compatriot, which by 2015 will be able to offer;
- Sixways, Worcester – c20,000 (c2014)
- Kingsholm, Gloucester – 18,000 (c2011)
- Memorial Stadium, Bristol – 18,000 (c2010)
It may only be eight stadia and it lacks the second semi-final site that Lansdowne Road provides, but it's not so far away as to be ridiculous and it would be a fantastically rugby-focused tournament.
Whatever ends up happening, we can but hope that the WRU actually think about the quality of the tournament they're producing, instead of prostrating themselves before the business interests and scattering another World Cup to the winds. I'm not holding my breath though...