— Published 16 May 2023

France 2025, a beautiful project thrown away

The announcement was not a thunderclap. It was expected. But it is no less spectacular. Confirming information that has been circulating for several days, the organising committee for the 2025 Rugby World Cup in France has thrown in the towel.

Its board of directors met on Monday 15 May for a last chance meeting. It was to “deliberate on the viability of the economic and financial model” of the world XIII rugby event. Clearly, the discussions remained fruitless. The global tournament, awarded to France in 2021, will be played elsewhere.

The reason? Money. “Despite all the work that has been done, it has not been possible to secure the risk of a deficit,” said the organising committee in a statement. “The conditions of financial viability initially defined by the State to support the project, set in January 2022, were not fully met.”

At the end of last year, the French Minister of Sport, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, gave the organising committee three months to provide financial guarantees. But this boost from the state, which had already committed 700,000 euros to the project – plus a large contribution to the organising committee’s costs and salaries – did not prevent the inevitable.

Despite its efforts, France 2025 has never been able to find a broadcaster willing to break its piggy bank for the rights to the competition. At the same time, several potential host cities have dragged their feet in terms of their willingness to host matches.

For this third edition organised exclusively in France, after 1954 and 1972, the organising committee had seen things through. Too big, perhaps.

The 2025 World Cup was to offer the public not just one, but four tournaments, for the under-19s, women’s rugby, wheelchair rugby and, of course, men’s rugby respectively. In total, no less than 128 matches to be played in forty stadiums, over five weeks.

For French rugby union, the blow is hard. The project led by Luc Lacoste, the president of the French federation, was supposed to be the deal of the century for a sport in need of recognition and media coverage. The French leader was appointed to the board of the international federation, the International Rugby League (IRL), last October. He is one of three members of the European Rugby League (ERL).

The contours of the competition were presented with great fanfare in January 2022 at a press conference opened by Jean Castex, then Prime Minister (photo above). “It’s about time it came back to us,” he enthused.

This is also a blow for the French sports movement, which had already identified the 2025 World Cup as a link between the Paris 2024 Games and the next Olympiad. On condition, however, that it does not turn into a fiasco. France 2025 explains in its press release: “This difficult decision has been taken so as not to jeopardise the robustness of the models for major international sporting events that France now wants to carry.

With two years to go before the event, the IRL will have to find a solid and credible plan B without delay. Not an easy task. “I can’t hide my disappointment, which I clearly conveyed to them in person,” commented its president, Tony Grant. “Although we have been focusing on France, we will now accelerate our thinking on other emergency options. The Board will meet face to face in July and we can then jointly determine our next steps and consider the other bids we have received not only for 2025, but also for 2029 and 2033.”

In Europe, England might be the best option, but it already hosted the last edition of the tournament last autumn after a year’s delay due to the health crisis. Instead, it’s all about Australia and New Zealand, who already hosted the tournament in 2017 with Papua New Guinea.