The first Rugby World Cup to be organized in Asia, the competition, which begins Friday, promises to be under the best auspices, at least in terms of accounting for the country.
"I'm waiting for a spectacular World Cup, one of the most impressive tournaments"says World Rugby President Bill Beaumont, before kick off on Friday (September 20th) of the first World Cup ever held in Asia. To open the tournament scheduled for November 2, the host country, Japan, will face Russia at the Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, in the distant suburbs of Tokyo.
In terms of accounting, the competition promises to be auspicious: 96% of the 1.8 million tickets for the 48 scheduled matches of the 20 teams in 12 stadiums are sold (2.47 million in Great Britain at the time of the previous edition, in 2015), a profit guarantee for the Japanese federation. 400,000 foreign visitors are expected during the duration of a tournament whose organization cost nearly 300 million euros. And 27,000 spectators attended training sessions in Wales, South Africa and New Zealand.
The Ren-G mascots, inspired by shisa – traditional protective lions supposed to bring happiness – sell well at flagship megastore of derivative products facing the west exit of Shinjuku Station, Tokyo. They embody the values of rugby – integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect – which "Coincide with the ancestral spirit of Japan"according to Akira Shimazu, director of the organizing committee. Even television played the game. The NHK public channel explained the rules and the role of everyone on the ground. TBS, for its part, broadcast a soap opera, No Side Game, conducted around a corporate rugby team, which achieved high ratings.
All of this shows a real craze in a country where rugby is not nearly as popular as baseball or football. The sport was introduced by Cambridge-educated Edward Bramwell Clarck (1874-1934), who in 1899 created a rugby section at Keio University with Ginnosuke Tanaka (1873-1933), a Japanese who also passed through Cambridge. In the 1980s, rugby mobilized crowds. The finals of the university championships are sold out. There are then more than 200,000 practitioners. Today, this number does not exceed 75 000, a decline begun in the early 1990s, in favor of football in particular.
Silence the critics
So the road was sometimes rocky to organize the World Cup, entrusted to Japan in 2009 thanks to the fight led by the former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, himself a former player of the Waseda University, one of the bastions of Japanese rugby. The archipelago obtained it after having failed for the 2011 and 2015 editions. For the world bodies, initially reluctant for fear of a lack of interest and a financial failure, the objective was then to favor the development rugby in Asia, where rugby has its audience. At the time of choosing Tokyo, there was even talk of organizing some matches in Singapore and Hong Kong.