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Japan Bids for Rugby World Cup 2011 (May 12, 2005)

A member of Japan's team playing in a qualifying match (Jiji)
Japan is in the running to host the seventh Rugby World Cup in 2011. Having formed a bid committee in October 2004, the Japan Rugby Football Union submitted a notification of official candidacy to the International Rugby Board in January 2005. In April the committee received Cabinet approval for the bid, meaning that it will have the full support of the Japanese government. It is now working to put together an attractive bid, in the hope of following up Japan's successful co-hosting of football's FIFA World Cup 2002 by bringing the Rugby World Cup to Asia for the first time ever.

Selling Point
In addition to Japan, New Zealand and South Africa are also candidates to host Rugby World Cup 2011. Both of these countries are formidable rivals. Both have hosted the World Cup in the past, and both are past winners of the tournament. The host country will be announced this November at an IRB board meeting in Dublin, Ireland.

As Japan is still developing as a competitive rugby nation, the country's primary selling point is that holding the event in Asia for the first time would symbolize and promote the internationalization of the sport. The previous five competitions have all been held in traditional rugby nations in either Europe or the southern hemisphere, and the 2007 World Cup is to be held in France, so this concept should appeal to the IRB, which is keen to establish rugby as a global sport.

The bidding committee includes some influential individuals. The president is former prime minister and Waseda University rugby team member Mori Yoshiro. "No rugby player enters a game thinking they're going to lose. We're determined to win," said Mori upon assuming his position. Other committee members include presidents of companies, such as Toyota Motor Corp., that sponsor teams competing in Japan's top rugby league; Kawabuchi Saburo, chairman of the J. League (Japan's professional soccer league); lawmakers who are members of the Parliamentary Rugby Club; and prominent figures from the worlds of business, politics, and sports. Hirao Seiji, a former head coach of Japan's national team, was named general manager and will serve as the spokesperson for the bid.

Proven Success
The official bid plan will be submitted in May, and the event is scheduled to be held at 11 venues in 10 locations throughout Japan. During a visit to Japan in February 2005, IRB chairman Syd Millar inspected the Nissan Stadium (formerly Yokohama International Stadium), a potential site for the World Cup final, and was very impressed. Buoyed by the success of FIFA World Cup 2002, Japan is confident, having already demonstrated that it has the venues, accommodation, security, and safe environment needed to host such a big event. General manager Hirao says that "revitalizing rugby in Japan and strengthening the national team" are keys to winning the bid.

Rugby, which was brought to Japan as far back as 1899, has a deep-rooted popularity. In fact, there are more registered rugby teams in Japan (3,899) than in any other country in the world, and Japan has the world's fifth largest rugby-playing population (130,476 players) - more even than New Zealand.

High-school and college rugby is particularly popular, and the sport is played in some 1,200 high schools across the country. The All-Japan High School Rugby Tournament has been held 84 times, and every young rugby player dreams of playing at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium, where the tournament is held. A renowned 1980s TV series titled School Wars told the true story of a teacher leading the rugby club at a rundown high school to the national championship against the odds, and many fans of the show still fondly recall this powerful drama.

The Japan University Rugby Championship, meanwhile, which was first held in 1964, is now a fixture of Japan's winter sporting calendar. Every year tens of thousands of rugby fans crowd into Tokyo's National Stadium for the final, many of them students or graduates waving flags showing their allegiance to their own universities.

Holding the Rugby World Cup in Asia would open up a host of new possibilities for rugby in the twenty-first century. In 2002 Japan proved that it has the facilities, infrastructure, and enthusiasm to successfully host a major international sporting event, and the bid organizers and the country's many rugby fans are determined to repeat that success in 2011.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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