As we flick our calendars over to September, the rugby world’s eyes move to England for their second hosting of the World Cup. Other hosts during the event’s 28 year history have been New Zealand (once solos plus once co-hosted with Australia), Australia (twice), South Africa (once), Wales (once), and France (once). Champions have been New Zealand (twice), Australia (twice), South Africa (twice), and England (once). So you get the picture – 2019 in Japan will be special in that it will be the first time the event is hosted in Asia, and outside the top rugby playing nations.
Adding interest is the fact that Japan will host the Rugby World Cup the year prior to hosting the world’s largest sporting event – 2020 Summer Olympics. Rugby World Cup is the world’s 5th largest sporting event in its own right. It’s a one-two combination that provides great impetus to Japan’s efforts to boost inbound tourism. Japan’s leaders have cleverly suggested that RWC2019 should be treated as a dress rehearsal for hosting the Olympics in terms of improved infrastructure, smoothness of logistics, and local people providing a warm welcome to international guests.
Japan’s vision for RWC2019 is
1. A ‘Strong Japan’ that welcomes peoples of the world
2. A tournament that all will enjoy
3. Communicate the spirit of rugby
4. Contribute to the development of global sports in Asia
It’s good that Japan’s leaders are setting clear goals and objectives for RWC2019 hosting, because a lot needs to be done. The infrastructure stuff should be fine given Japan’s world-renown precision engineering and project management skills. This is despite some recent ruckus that the new National Stadium won’t be ready in time to be a RWC2019 venue. Japan needs to submit a new venue plan by end September, just in time for the closing ceremony of this year’s event in England. But the bigger task will be the soft side.
A recent global survey of productivity ranked Japan lowly in the developed world. The reason given for this was Omotenashi - the natural Japanese tendency to offer comprehensive customer service and care - which of course is labor intensive. This trait will in fact stand Japan in good stead for hosting a major world sporting event. But much more work is needed on quality English signage, and to improve the English language skills of the hospitality industry. A plan to establish an army of volunteers for the event will certainly help improve interaction with international visitors.
Twelve planned venues to host games are in Tokyo, Yokohama, Sapporo, Kamaishi (in Iwate Prefecture devastated in 2011’s tsunami), Kumagaya, Shizuoka, Toyota, Osaka, Kobe (devastated in 1995’s earthquake), Fukuoka, Kumamoto, and Oita.
Japan’s 2016 debut in the Super Rugby tournament will provide a good warm up for the 2019 World Cup. The Super Rugby tournament includes regional teams from Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa who will come to Japan to play, no doubt accompanied by thousands of fans.
The last time a Rugby World Cup was hosted in the Pacific was 2011 in New Zealand, welcoming 133,000 international visitors for the event over a four month period. Admittedly this is barely more than 1% of Japan’s annual international visitor volume, but the event also has the potential to leave a legacy through publicity generated.
So if you are a rugby fan living outside Japan, make plans now to visit us for the 2019 World Cup, the first in Asia. If you live in Japan but don’t know much about rugby, make a note to see some games near you and join in the party.