SA and France smoke peace pipe after controversial awarding of hosting rights to 2023 Rugby World Cup
South Africa and France have seemingly kissed and made up.
The two rugby powerhouses had been at odds following the controversial awarding of hosting rights of the 2023 Rugby World Cup to France in November 2017.
South Africa fully expected to be awarded the hosting rights after their bid book met wide approval only for France to pip them when the issue was put to a final vote.
The French were accused of skulduggery, but they have gone on the charm offensive with exactly three years to go before the next global spectacle kicks off.
With an Entente Cordiale of sorts now in place, Aurélien Lechevallier, the ambassador of France to South Africa, is driving several initiatives that he hopes will forge closer ties between the two countries.
Some of them will be grassroots-based but others will be geared towards a big South African turnout at Charles de Gaulle arrivals hall in 2023.
“We are hoping to attract more than 600,000 tourists to France for the 2023 Rugby World Cup,” said Lechevallier said during a luncheon at his official residence.
That would represent the largest influx of rugby fans for any World Cup and the French will be desperate to put bums on seats at the rate the Japanese did last year.
Last year’s World Cup saw a 99 percent attendance rate and set a new fanzone attendance record of 1.13.
To achieve that the French have to extend a hand of friendship far and wide and SA Rugby have extended theirs.
“We have to support France,” said SA Rugby president Mark Alexander.
“The spirit in which we do these things is similar to what you see on the field. You may have your differences in the heat of battle but afterwards the hand of friendship goes out. Rugby is about friendship and fraternity,” he said.
As a Rugby World Cup winner in France in 2007 and one of the galaxy of stars that helped put Toulon back on the rugby map, former Springbok wing Bryan Habana has been roped in as one of the 2023 tournament ambassadors.
He was quick to clarify that he wasn’t the only player in that capacity.
“Jonny (Wilkinson) has also been approached and I think Dan Carter has also been asked. I’m not sure if he has agreed. Former French players Frédéric Michalak and Sébastien Chabal are also ambassadors,” said Habana.
Meanwhile, the draw for the 2023 tournament has been moved to December 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It was originally set for November 30 but has been postponed until after the Rugby Championship, which has been rescheduled due to the Covid-19 outbreak and is set to be completed on December 12, to take into account country seedings from that competition.
South Africa will defend the Webb Ellis trophy against 19 other sides at the World Cup set for September 8 to October 21 2023.
The Springboks, 2023 hosts France and 10 other sides – 2019 runners-up England, Australia, Argentina, Fiji, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Japan, Scotland and Wales – have already secured their places after finishing in the top three of their pool at last year’s World Cup.