'Plan for everything': Rugby World Cup's advice to Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo (AFP) –


Rugby World Cup director Alan Gilpin has advised Tokyo Olympics organisers to "plan for every eventuality" after a ferocious typhoon forced him into cancelling three matches for the first time in tournament history.

In an interview with AFP to mark the end of the World Cup, Gilpin stressed he had "no regrets" about scrapping the three matches given the size and power of Typhoon Hagibis that eventually killed more than 80 people.

He said many of the Rugby World Cup's contingency preparations were never needed, but he advised Tokyo 2020 officials to plan for the worst given Japan's susceptibility to extreme weather, earthquakes and volcanoes.

"I think Tokyo 2020 really need to get under the skin of that," said Gilpin, who saw at first-hand the havoc the Japanese elements can wreak on a sporting event.

The Rugby World Cup was in many ways a dress rehearsal for the Olympics, which start in July, and Gilpin pointed to the many successes of the tournament as a taster for what fans can expect at Tokyo 2020.

"I think plan for incredible audiences. Absolutely make the best of the volunteers, which were the story of this tournament... I think Tokyo 2020 need to really amplify that and they will have a very special Olympic Games if they do that," said the director.

He pointed to the success of Japan's men's and women's rugby sevens teams which both came fourth at the Rio Games and said several members of the Brave Blossoms would likely be in the squad for Tokyo 2020, making them "genuine medal contenders".

Gilpin admitted he had replayed his decision to cancel the three games -- New Zealand v Italy, England v France and Canada v Namibia -- a "million times" in his head but time had not presented him with a better solution.

"When we saw the size, scale and strength of Typhoon Hagibis, we knew it was unrealistic to be able to move matches away from their areas and move teams en masse around the country in that timeframe," he said.

- 'We can do this anywhere' -

World Rugby has announced it will select the hosts of the 2027 and 2031 championships at the same time and Gilpin said this opened up the field to other nations like Japan that are not traditional rugby heartlands.

What the successful experience in Japan has shown is "we can do this anywhere," said Gilpin, with the next Rugby World Cup in 2023 to be hosted in France.

"We can be brave and we can go to new territories. We'd love to be in North America, South America but we'd also love to be back in Asia," he said, citing South Korea, China and India as countries that have previously staged comparable sporting events.

"We'll spend the next probably nine to 12 months doing some joint feasibility work with a lot of countries that have talked about hosting," he said, including Australia, the US and Russia.

A decision will be made in November 2021 as to who will host the two men's World Cups but Gilpin mooted the idea of staging the next-but-one women's World Cup -- after New Zealand in 2021 -- in Asia.

Looking back on a "brilliant but tiring" six weeks of competition, Gilpin said the "proudest day" had been staging a match in Kamaishi, a town in north-eastern Japan with a strong rugby history that was devastated by the 2011 tsunami.

The match turned out to be a thriller with minnows Uruguay upsetting Fiji 30-27 but it was also a powerful symbol of recovery, with Gilpin saying he had "stood in the middle of a field in 2015" before the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium had been built.

"They were the best hosts. I've been involved in 200-plus Rugby World Cup matches now and that's the best I've been involved in for sure," he said.

South Africa lifted the Webb Ellis Cup on Saturday, after beating England 32-12 in the final.