Whenever a country or city hosts a major sporting competition one word is bandied about – legacy.
What will be left behind once the bright lights, full stadiums, tourism dollars and all that goes with a showpiece event bring on your home soil packs up and heads off to its next location?
If you look at the likes of Athens and Rio, Olympics hosts in the last 20 years, the answer is very little – other than crumbling stadia and a distinct lack of plan and infrastructure to truly reap the long-term benefits.
The truth is most hosts will lose money for the honour of having an event roll into town. Costs spiral into hundreds of millions, if not billions, depending on the event, and no matter the attendances and tourism spend, two to four weeks simply is not enough to recoup that level of investment.
So why do it in the first place? Yes, the prestige is difficult to define in terms of cash rewards, as is the supposed marketing exposure the country receives through thousands of hours of television coverage broadcast around the world. And that is where we come back to that one simple, yet ever so complicated word, legacy.
In its most desired form, when organisers talk about legacy they are talking about inspiring young people, the athletes of tomorrow, building a sporting infrastructure and pathway to greatness. They are laying the building blocks for the development and ultimate success of sport in their city or country for the coming decades. If they are not, they should be, because we have already established that the short-term maths don’t add up.
This is especially true of developing nations, particularly pertinent when we consider Japan and their hosting of the Rugby World Cup which kicks off this Friday.
Japan, to the untrained eye, is not what you would necessarily call a rugby nation. However, they have more registered players than much more established countries like Wales, Ireland and Scotland. They have played in every World Cup to date, and have a professional league that is now into its sixteenth season. Pretty healthy then?
Maybe not, and that is where the World Cup, and World Rugby in particular, have a role to play.
Despite the sound structures we have spoken of, top class rugby is still very much in its early years, and for everything to work properly behind that, the pathway must be there for top talent to grow and flourish in the Land of the Rising Sun.
That is what makes the axing of the Sunwolves from Super Rugby all the more baffling. Rushed into the competition just four years ago in a bid to expand, and ideally explode the game in Asia – and add to the SANZAAR coffers – the experiment has been ditched just as it was looking like taking off.
An inability to genuinely compete with the best of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina in the early days was initially seen as a bedding in period. As that stretched over the course of three seasons more and more eyebrows would be raised – especially given the young franchise was often seeing crowd numbers less than their Pro League colleagues.
Sadly, as some of the jigsaw started to fall into place and results were improving, the plug was pulled. In a World Cup year, the message this sent could not have been any worse.
This has been added to by a wholesale shake-up in the professional game which has not been well received, and all of a sudden the club game is reeling.
Add into this the country having something of a reputation as a destination for top players to go and top-up their pension fund, blame those willing to pay to get them here and not the players. And, at a moment when rugby in Japan should be about to reach its eureka moment, we are left wondering what the landscape will look like on the morning of November 3.
In a sport that has only been professional for a quarter of a decade, everything has to be done to ensure we no longer continue with the handful of traditional nations battling it out at the top. The odd upset here and there is not enough.
Nations in tier two and below are notoriously ill-treated. In Japan we have the perfect opportunity to grow the game from the grassroots up – shifting from the short term big names and bigger contracts to something with longevity the whole country can buy into – whatever that looks like. Let’s not miss out on it.
Manu Tuilagi believes England’s World Cup quest will benefit from the diverse blend of cultures within Eddie Jones’ squad.
Samoan-born Tuilagi is among a number of players with overseas heritage who are looking to repeat the heroics of Martin Johnson’s 2003 Webb Ellis Trophy winners by sweeping all before them in Japan.
Also represented to varying degrees are Fiji, Tonga, Nigeria and the United States, while Lewis Ludlam’s background is a mix of Guyanese, Palestinian and Egyptian.
“I definitely think it helps. There’s a lot of different backgrounds in the team,” Tuilagi said.
“The most important thing is that you have to be a part of the team, but where you come from helps because it brings all of your experience from your culture.
“There’s definitely a feeling in the team that it doesn’t matter where you’re from. We’re all here for the same reason and we want to achieve the same goal.
“For me it shouldn’t be any different to anywhere else, whether that’s sport or outside of sport. As long as you all have the same goal, it doesn’t matter.
“It’s a team sport and as long as everyone does their job, you do your job and your mate does his job, then it all comes together.”
Tuilagi has overcome years of significant injury setbacks and disciplinary issues to make his first appearance at a World Cup since 2011.
“I didn’t think I’d be here in this position again. It’s a massive step in terms of trying to get back and play well,” Tuilagi said.
“Twenty-eleven feels like a long, long time ago in terms of rugby. I’ve been out with all the injuries, so I’m just thankful that I’m still playing.
“Between 2011 and this one there were a lot of dark days. To just be able to go out and train and then do what I love on the weekend is the main thing for me.
“What is so exciting is to be around the players that we have. There’s something special within this group of players and I’m excited to see where we can take this.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
With Wales’ first match in the Rugby World Cup just two weeks away, we take a look at the star players who will be key to their Webb Ellis trophy prospects in Japan.
ALUN WYN JONES
The inspirational captain keeps the pack well organised and is the tipping point between winning and losing the forward battle such is his imposing presence. Shows up all over the pitch and is an outstanding line-out option. The 33-year-old has the experience and class to inspire Gatland’s side to glory.
The Cardiff man could be one of the stand-out players of the tournament if Wales go well in Japan. If a match is going down to the wire, you can bet on Navidi’s never-say-die attitude to earn Wales a late penalty or provide his backs with quality frontfoot ball. He disrupts ball at the breakdown and tackles his heart out at every opportunity. A colossal figure.
Without Gareth Anscombe to provide the spark from No10 due to injury, Biggar will keep the back-line ticking during the World Cup. The 29-year-old has the control and accurate kicking game to put the Dragons into formidable scoring opportunities. Will relish the pressure of carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders.
One of the best players in the Northern Hemisphere, North could step into any team with little fuss. It’s hard to believe he’s still only 27 – and his ability to eye gaps and produce magic with every touch has seen him evolve into one of the game’s most influential players.
With 40 tries in 89 caps, the powerful Ospreys wingers will be key to Gatland’s side flourishing in Japan.
An immaculate player. The Saracens man has taken his game to another level since the Lions Tour in 2017. He is supreme in the air, can counter attack from deep and defends well. Looks promising with ball in hand and has the pace and quality footwork to evade defenders and put team-mates in favourable attacking positions. One of the best in the business.