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Rugby World Cup could expand to 24 teams in 2023, say organisers

The Guardian logo The Guardian 10/09/2018 Robert Kitson
Japan, who South Africa in England in the 2015 World Cup, will host the 2019 tournament.: Japan, who beat South Africa in England in the 2015 World Cup, will host the 2019 tournament. © AFP/Getty Images Japan, who beat South Africa in England in the 2015 World Cup, will host the 2019 tournament.

Expanding the Rugby World Cup from 20 to 24 teams is being given serious consideration by the game’s governing body. World Rugby says four more teams could feature in France in 2023, although the 2027 tournament would appear more likely.

As things stand Canada, Kenya, Hong Kong and Germany will be involved in a play-off event this year with the winners advancing to the 2019 tournament in Japan. Rugby does not have the global depth of football but World Rugby’s chief executive, Brett Gosper, is keen for more Tier Two countries to share the game’s biggest stage.

“We’re always looking from an expansive point of view, rather than reducing so it’s just a question of when rather than if,” said Gosper. “We just want to make sure the teams are competitive enough to move to a 24-team tournament. In order to grow the sport it’s about getting interest from new fans and commercial interest in new markets but you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the teams.”

Alan Gilpin, the man in charge of the 2019 World Cup, feels similarly, with the tournament having featured just 20 teams for the past two decades. “We are definitely looking at expansion not contraction. We’d love to move to 24 teams.” Both also dismissed fears that next year’s potentially one-sided pool fixture between the repechage winners and New Zealand will undermine their case for expansion. “We are confident the team that qualifies will be competitive enough, even against the All Blacks,” said Gosper. “We’ll work hard with that team to make sure that team is well trained in advance.”

Former French national team rugby player Sebastien Chabal poses after a news conference on the 2023 Rugby World Cup hosted by France © REUTERS/Charles Platiau Former French national team rugby player Sebastien Chabal poses after a news conference on the 2023 Rugby World Cup hosted by France The Webb Ellis Cup - The World Cup of Rugby Union © CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images The Webb Ellis Cup - The World Cup of Rugby Union

World Rugby are also keeping an eye on the offer from a private equity firm to buy a major stake in Premiership Rugby. “We’re keeping appraised of the situation and are having conversations with the Rugby Football Union,” said Gosper. “We’ll see how it plays out. It’s an interesting occurrence … but elements of rugby are always in conversations about how they can raise the general funding of the sport to accelerate growth. We’ve been in conversations ourselves in the past.

“You have to weight that extra money coming in with the cost to control that comes with it. That’s one of the reasons we’ve never ventured into that area before and why we’d always be concerned about the exit plans of other investors. We’re a governing body so we’re control freaks and it’s hard to relinquish control.”

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