An anatomy of the World Cup vote

By Gregor Paul

With the advantage of hindsight, it appears that New Zealand, far from being the rank outsider in the 2011 World Cup hosting race, were actually the favourites.

Exact definitions are difficult to make but it appears, from talking to IRB delegates and insiders, that the delegates who arrived in Dublin did so with votes already mandated by their various national rugby unions. From Herald on Sunday inquiries, it appears no one changed their votes in the first ballot.

The reason: many of the IRB member unions felt that a New Zealand-hosted World Cup was a concept whose time had come, principally because of the power of the All Black "brand" and the beneficial effect it has had on world rugby - and the NZRU's carefully crafted "personal" strategy.

The IRB have successfully kept a blanket of secrecy around the vote but, with indications that none of the delegates changed their vote in the first ballot, it appears Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England and France all supported the NZ bid either then or in the key second ballot.

That constituted 10 votes of the 11 needed for a second-ballot majority, which would've been tipped by Oceania's one-vote hand. Australia supported Japan in both ballots.

Once South Africa had gone, New Zealand was always going to have a strong case, with the South African votes added to others as the Sanzar partners had pledged each other their votes if knocked out in the first round.

However, it has emerged that the national rugby unions made their decision on which way to vote after a leaked IRB document casting the South Africans as favourites found its way to the media. The clear implication is that the South African bid may have been affected by what delegates saw as a deliberate leak.

However, the rugby world seemed also to feel it was time to pay homage to the team that has done more than any other to fill the coffers of the IRB. For 100 years, the All Blacks have been filling stadiums around the world.

The majority of those 21 men who were sent to vote in Dublin felt they couldn't bite the hand from which they have been feeding. A vote for New Zealand to host the 2011 World Cup was recognition that the All Blacks had to be rewarded appropriately for their efforts in boosting the popularity and financial standing of the game.

"I am sure that was a factor in the minds of many people," said Scottish delegate Bill Nolan when asked if the All Black brand had been responsible for capturing votes.

"I think what we are all aware of is that New Zealand has 100 years of rugby tradition and heritage. It is a rugby country for rugby people."

There is suspicion that the NZRU may have indulged in a little horse-trading to secure the votes of the Home Nations. Their match against Wales on this tour was only shoehorned in earlier this year and may have secured the Welsh vote.

Peter Wheeler, the former British Lions hooker who was advising Japan with their bid, told The Times of London he was sure there had been no horse trading, before saying: "But it will be interesting to see how many times the All Blacks play over the next two years."

NZRU chief executive Chris Moller refuted that notion entirely.

"I find that insulting," he said. "Our bid was about honesty, trustworthiness and integrity. We have not offered any games for votes."

It is no secret that, from both a rugby and commercial perspective, Wales, England, Ireland, Scotland and France would name the All Blacks as their preferred Southern Hemisphere opponents even without World Cup hosting rights.

"It is part of our strategy that we want to play extra games against the Southern Hemisphere teams," said Welsh Rugby Union chief executive David Moffett. "That's what England did before they won the World Cup in 2003 - they played twice as many games against Southern Hemisphere opponents as we did.

"We could probably have sold out the Millennium Stadium twice such was the demand for tickets when the All Blacks played here."

The NZRU's successful presentation using Prime Minister Helen Clark, All Black captain Tana Umaga and the iconic Colin Meads was key in deciding votes in the crucial second ballot, once South Africa had dropped out of the running.

Welsh delegate David Pickering hinted there was sympathy on New Zealand's side having lost the co-hosting rights in 2003 and there was empathy, too, for the argument that if New Zealand missed out in 2011, the World Cup would become too big for all but a handful of the most economically powerful nations.

IRB chief executive Mike Miller hinted that the rugby community and IRB were risk averse. "In New Zealand, you can guarantee that it will be packed and they understand their rugby and will be into it."

These factors, though, were more the icing on the cake. Momentum was built up when Moller and NZRU chairman Jock Hobbs spent most of October personally lobbying the delegates. As Hobbs told the Herald on Sunday: "We wanted to speak to the people making the votes. We wanted to not only talk about our bid but also tailor it to them."

"We made international relations a priority in 2003," said Moller. "We wanted to improve our relationship with the IRB council members. So when we decided to bid for the 2011 World Cup, Jock and I knew every voter personally."

Naivety or a misplaced sense of morality would have killed New Zealand's bid. Look at the Japanese, they ran a slick campaign but what, in essence, were they able to promise each of the individual unions?

Presumably if Japan does ever bid again - and Miller encouraged it to do so - it will be aware of the unstated rules of the game.

Fortunately for New Zealand, Moller and Hobbs were savvy about the machinations of bidding for global sports events. They have won the rights on the back of a pledge that said New Zealand lives and breathes rugby. That promise made, it is now up to the good people of New Zealand to deliver.

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

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