Is the failure to release the Japan 2019 match schedule, an ominous sign of larger problems looming?
No match schedule yet for Japan 2019 There is much speculation surrounding the reasons for the postponement of the World Cup Rugby match schedule. Rugby fans around the world were expecting the match schedule to be released in Tokyo on 20 September, exactly two years before the World Cup.
The venue in Tokyo had been booked and all arrangements been made.
Organisers are keeping quiet about the reasons. Khaya has learned that the match schedule will only be released in November in London at World Rugby’s headquarters. The early promise of a groundswell of grassroots support for Japan’s third sport (behind professional baseball and football) threatens to give way to apathy, even as organisers prepare to start the countdown to 2019.
“The problem is that hardcore rugby fans are really excited but the rest of the country isn’t,” says Rich Freeman, rugby correspondent for Kyodo News in Tokyo.
“There could be huge numbers of visiting rugby fans spread out across Japan in 2019 but most people here are barely aware that the tournament is happening.”
World Rugby estimates the tournament will attract 400,000 international visitors and the country will benefit from around 400 billion yen ($359 million) in direct economic investment.
But a lot of hard work needs to be done to reach these figures. Many rugby fans blame the unrelenting focus on the 2020 Olympics, preparations for which have been marked by scandals over everything from the official logo and soaring costs to the wisdom of using wood in the construction of a main stadium that is also supposed to host the Olympic flame.
The hapless preparations for the Tokyo Games have also affected the Rugby World Cup. The abrupt cancellation of Zaha Hadid’s initial stadium design led to delays in construction. The new Olympic stadium will not be ready in time to host the final on 2 November 2019. That privilege will go to Yokohama, host of the 2002 FIFA World Cup final. Rugby’s struggle to establish itself in the Japanese sporting firmament has been complicated by Eddie Jones’s departure to coach England, the Tokyo-based Sunwolves’ travails in their debut season in Super Rugby and Goromaru’s struggle to rediscover the form that made the full-back rugby union’s highest-paid player at club level.
“It was unfortunate that the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) let slip a golden opportunity to make rugby one of the most popular sports in Japan, simply because it was disorganised,” says Tetsuo Jimbo, a 55-year-old and lifelong follower of Japanese rugby.
“It allowed one of the best coaches in the world, as well as the most popular player on the team, Ayumu Goromaru, to leave Japan. It also failed to promote Super Rugby and as a result most Japanese barely know what it is.
“It’s fair to say that Goromaru was the symbol of rugby’s newly earned popularity in Japan and that symbol has been lost for more than a year.” The prospects for sell-out crowds across all 12 venues – from Hokkaido in the far north to Kyushu in the south-west – look reasonable, given that 75% of Japan’s 127 million population live within an hour of a match venue.
“Rugby needs more public exposure and better promotion,” Jimbo says. “When you think of how much professional football has done to promote itself, the JRFU’s efforts are minimal and pathetic.”
There is cause for optimism, though. More than 60,000 people have signed up for the JRFU’s supporters’ club since its launch in September, and this month the union, together with Asia Rugby and World Rugby, will launch the IMPACT Beyond programme, designed to attract a million new players across Asia by 2019.
Khaya’s team in Japan is hard at work, laying the groundwork for what we do best. – managing the logistical set-up of groups visiting these events. Khaya has a strong network in all host cities and is able to create a variety of programs for tour operators. Khaya is offering a memorable experience for everyone travelling to the country of the rising sun.