<
>

How the 2020 Olympic Games will affect the 2019 Rugby World Cup

LONDON -- "Groundbreaking" was the buzzword Brett Gosper, the CEO of World Rugby, emphasised at a recent London press conference when the official logo and tournament dates of Rugby World Cup 2019 were revealed. Japan, he said, will look, feel and sound very different to any World Cup that preceded it.

While Asia's debut Rugby World Cup will mark the first time the tournament has been prized away from the traditional superpowers in favour of a Tier Two host nation, there is another unique aspect to 2019: it will be followed by the biggest sporting event on the planet, when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games a year later.

Extensive planning and communication between the two organising committees will be key if Japan is to match the success of England 2015 in four years' time. Fortunately, Yoshiro Mori is president of the 2020 Tokyo Games committee and the vice president of the RWC2019 team, which should help.

"We will make sure the prices reflect the need and demand throughout Asia and make it fair for the fans." Japan 2019 Organising Commitee CEO Akira Shimazu

"Things like the transportation system, volunteers -- all of those aspects are things that we can work on together," Akira Shimazu, CEO of the Japan 2019 Organising Committee, told ESPN. "We've already held talks on how we can do those types of things together. It's really positive as it helps us both."

Having co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Korea, Japan has major-event experience. But both Shimazu and Rugby World Cup head Alan Gilpin said advice had been sought from previous rights holders and other event 'owners'.

There will be drawbacks to having two global sporting events taking place in the same country within a year of each other. July's announcement that Tokyo's National Stadium would not be ready for 2019, meaning it was scrapped as a venue for both the opening match on Sep. 20 and World Cup final on Nov. 2, was met with "extreme disappointment" by World Rugby. Instead, Yokohama Stadium -- which hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup final -- will be used for the tournament's finale while Tokyo Stadium will be utilised in the capital.

"It was important at the time for us to express our disappointment in the decision that was made," Gilpin said. "But you have to move past that. In partnership with the organising committee we've found the right plan and there's a huge amount of confidence in their ability to deliver a great World Cup."

Shimazu added: "Looking back, it was the right decision. However, the capacity of Yokohoma is 72,000 and the [replacement in] Tokyo is 50,000. The original one was meant to be 80,000. In that aspect, it will have an effect on ticketing because the revenue we get will be less."

Ticketing is another area that will require strong cooperation between both organising committees. "We have to make sure we don't sell them at the same time because it will just be competition for each other," Shimazu said. "We will work closely with the ticketing section of the 2020 committee because the pricing of those tickets may affect the pricing of the rugby."

Pricing became a hot topic after England 2015 was declared the most expensive major sports tournament ever, with an average ticket costing £104.17. Despite aggressive efforts from Rugby World Cup organisers to fend off secondary websites and touts -- the latter of which turned out in abundance at several venues across the country -- seats for last Saturday's final were on sale for as much as £60,000 each.

Accommodation has been earmarked by 2019 organisers, too, after hotels across the UK's 11 host cities increased their room rates by up to 1,100 percent during the tournament, according to search website Trivago.

Japan's entire 2019 committee -- around 50 members -- plus representatives, councillors and governors from all of its 12 host cities, venues and prefectures all visited during the World Cup to learn as much about tournament operation as possible.

"We will make sure the prices reflect the need and demand throughout Asia and make it fair for the fans," Shimazu said. "We think the English ticketing structure has been the correct structure for England 2015 -- especially as there was huge interest in tickets leading up to the tournament.

"There were tickets at lower prices but fans perhaps weren't able to get those, so they had to go through auctions or different routes and they ended up paying a lot of money for them. I can understand the fans would have been upset.

"Hotels are very expensive in England -- much more expensive than in Japan, I would say almost twice as much! I'm sure fans coming from outside of England would have had to shell out a lot of money to see their teams play."

The presence of Tokyo 2020 also makes the 2019 pool stage draw a difficult matter. The draw for 2015 was criticised for taking place almost three years' before the tournament began.

The beef was that the draw did not accurately reflect the world rankings when the tournament kicked off, with hosts England, Australia and Wales all in the same pool. Gosper acknowledged these criticisms and stated World Rugby would look to move the draw closer to the tournament in 2019, but that could risk a potential ticketing clash with the Olympics.

Shimazu said: "The pool allocation draw will still be made sometime next year. But the match scheduling and the dates and venues might be announced at a later date. We have to start ticket sales fairly early.

"We have tickets to sell for the Olympics and Paralympics -- we don't want to be in competition with each other as it will just have a negative impact.

"We've been talking to World Rugby, but we need to have the draw and start selling tickets as early as possible. That's a unique situation to Japan that didn't happen in England -- but we are taking this into account and Brett is aware of that."

While Shimazu and Gilper insisted there was much work to be done, the excitement surrounding Japan 2019 is building. The host nation's team, the Brave Blossoms, led by departing head coach Eddie Jones, excelled in England, becoming the first country to win three of their four pool matches yet fail to reach the quarterfinals.

Japan's explosive, dynamic and entertaining performances -- particularly their shock opening victory against South Africa -- saw interest boom. Official Rugby World Cup outlets in London were forced to close early due to the high demand for replica kit, while a total of 25 million people watched their victory against Samoa back home.

"We have a much stronger platform now than we might have had the performances of Japan been different in England," Gilpin said. "The challenge is to make sure that the audience stays engaged with the sport."

Shimazu added: "The Brave Blossoms performed amazingly on the pitch. It will have a major impact on our organising committee, because there is now a wave of excitement and enthusiasm. Hopefully we can ride that wave."