With all the optimism bouncing around USA Rugby with the news that the US will host the 2031 (Men's) and 2033 (Women's) Rugby World Cups, it's hard to believe less that 2 years ago, on March 30, 2020, the USA Rugby Board of Directors and Congress voted to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as a result of insurmountable financial problems
Yet as dark as things seemed at the time, a solution was found that allowed the sport to be revived, and now USA Rugby has been handed the chance to finally give the game a significant place in the American sporting landscape.
Crisis averted, USA Rugby Head Coach Gary Gold now faces pressure to secure qualification for the 2023 Cup in France by beating Chile in qualifying in July to join England, Argentina, Japan and Samoa in Pool D. South African-born Gold told reporters “If you are trying to build confidence in the host country then it is important you are competing at World Cups. “While we are celebrating the exceptionally good news today, we are still suffering from the effects of bankruptcy 20 months ago and I am not sure that many people at that time would have bet on us being awarded a World Cup ... While we have had to start again, this is a real life line. It is a very strong step in the right direction and it’s very exciting times.”
Gold has always dismissed the idea that just throwing money at the sport in the USA would allow it to compete against the established NFL, NHL and NBA and is adamant growth has to be based on established clubs and academies to ensure success. He said: “The idea that some philanthropist was going to ride in on his white horse and write out a cheque for hundreds of millions of dollars was never going to happen.
“When Japan was awarded the World Cup their Top League was a good competition but I don’t think it was in a better state than what the MLR is at the moment. You are going to see a lot of people getting behind the build-up and while nine years is a long time, in many ways it is short time to get things done.
“Luckily in terms of stadia the USA is far ahead but now it is about getting the real work done at youth and academy level because the squad of 33 players who will go to the 2031 men’s World Cup are probably between 15 and 20-years old now. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the development of those players.
“Getting playing numbers up to 450,000 is feasible. Of course NBA, NFL, and NHL are massive sports but once you come out of college and university, if you haven’t made the draft then unlike rugby, there aren’t amateur NFL teams to join. Therefore, there are thousands of talented football players whose careers are done – that is not how rugby works.
“I am not going to says that in my life time rugby is going to compete with NFL, NHL or NBA. But can rugby grow in America as soccer has done since the 1994 FIFA World Cup? Most definitely. The country is now going to stage the third biggest sporting event in the world and that will be followed by the women’s Rugby World Cup which bodes really well for the game globally.”
The USA Eagles have to beat Chile home and away in July to secure a place in the World Cup in France next year and failure would be seen a significant pot hole on the road to 2031.
“It is important we are flying the flag at all the World Cups and each tournament is a stepping stone towards 2031. You want to give guys as much experience of World Cups as possible to have that knowledge and understanding and if you did miss out on one of those tournaments it wouldn’t be a game changer it just wouldn’t be ideal.”