Russia’s bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup received a boost Wednesday when the head of the International Rugby Board’s World Cup operations praised plans to convert football venues to rugby stadiums.
Russia is set to host its first major rugby tournament when the World Cup Sevens tournament takes place in Moscow in June, and the Russian Rugby Federation has said it will bid for the 2023 World Cup in the 15-man version of the game.
The bid would likely envision the use the host of stadiums being built for the 2018 football World Cup, federation president Vyacheslav Kopiev said at a meeting with IRB officials in Moscow.
“After the football World Cup in 2018 a lot of new stadiums will appear in Russia, which in principle meet the requirements for rugby,” Kopiev said.
Rugby World Cup head Kit McConnell praised the plan to convert football venues.
“With the venues you will have from the 2018 football World Cup, and rugby being able to be played in football venues, as we’ve seen in France in 2007, as we will see in England in 2015, I think we’ve got a wonderful platform in the future to host a Rugby World Cup,” he said.
McConnell played down concerns that Russian rugby was not popular enough to justify hosting the event, pointing to the decision to award Japan the 2019 event.
“We’ve got a Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, so the Rugby World Cup is one of the largest events in the world, but we also use it to grow the game around the world,” he said.
Newly appointed IRB chief executive Brett Gosper sounded a note of caution about Russia as a possible host.
“It needs to develop its audience further in this country for it to really hold such a big, big event with so many games across the country,” he said.
“It would be a wonderful World Cup if it happens here, I’m sure. You should hold that ambition, because it would be great for rugby, great for the country.”
The World Cup Sevens will be played at Moscow’s vast Luzhniki stadium, long renowned as a football and athletics venue, and set to host the final of the 2018 football World Cup.
Elsewhere in Russia, the Central Stadium in the rugby-mad Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk regularly hosts capacity crowds of 25,000.