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Our Cups runneth over: How rugby's World Cup double is a boost of Olympic proportions

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Brisbane’s elevation to the epicentre of world sport took another giant leap forward overnight with the decision to award Australia two Rugby World Cup tournaments. It’s another free kick for Queensland, writes Jim Tucker

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The Grand Slam of major events etching “Brisbane” ever larger on the sporting map grew again on Thursday night with the 2027 and 2029 Rugby World Cups awarded to Australia. 

A crowd-pulling chunk of matches will be played at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium in 2027 but that’s just the start of what the world’s biggest rugby party can do for the city. 

Negotiations are still robust about just how many World Cup games will be locked in for 2027 with essential Queensland Government support. 

Anywhere from 12-to-14 games in Brisbane and Townsville, at the impressive 25,000-seat Queensland Country Bank Stadium, is the possible bonanza from the 48-game tournament. 

Suncorp Stadium is a wonderful venue but the capacity criteria for Rugby World Cups almost certainly rules it out of hosting a semi-final even though the Wallabies have more success there than any arena worldwide. 

No venue under a 60,000-strong capacity has hosted a semi-final since 1995 in South Africa. It’s all about the dollars at that end of the tournament. 

You’d expect Sydney’s 83,500-seat Accor Stadium and the 100,000-seat MCG to share the semi-finals and final.  

Two quarter-finals staged in Brisbane would be a bumper week.  
The 2029 tournament for women will utilise the Ballymore upgrade finally underway for some games as well.

Those with long memories will recall the buzz around Brisbane during the 2003 World Cup when a revamped Suncorp Stadium was newly opened. 

There were kilts, floral bula shirts, sweaty English knights in plastic chainmail, Kiwis in boring black, Welsh in leek costumes, a sprinkling of Romanians, “Bokke, Bokke, Bokke” chants from South Africans and gold Wallabies kit everywhere for various games. 

Some sheltered AFL fans even thought the Brisbane Lions team song had been hijacked when the French team belted out their anthem, La Marseillaise. 

The big points to all of this is the potential to super-charge rugby’s faded profile in the hearts and minds of footy-loving boys and girls, re-engage rugby lovers, attract new fans, build participation and grow the women’s game.
“You’d love to see Queensland stars like Jordan Petaia and Harry Wilson performing and inspiring kids to play rugby at that 2027 tournament,” Wallabies great Paul McLean said. 

“I know I’d love my grandkids to be speaking about something other than (NRL star) Ryan Papenhuysen and his mullet. 

“People also forget how huge a home World Cup really is with travelling fans for weeks and the massive economic impact for the state and the code.” 

Fans of some sports just don’t travel yet the mass migration of rugby fans for the six weeks of a World Cup is greater than the population of some small nations.   

From Dublin, a delighted Phil Kearns, the Executive Director of Australia’s winning 2027-2029 RWC Bid, predicted a 200,000-strong influx of travelling fans across the country. 
“There’s been some negativity around our game in Australia for a while. This is the day that stops. We’ve got a huge opportunity here,” said Kearns, a member of Australia’s first World Cup-winning team in 1991.
The 2027 event will be a colourful carnival of fun, try-jinks, patriotic fervour from 20 nations and a non-stop party for those with the constitution.   

McLean, a former Chair of Rugby Australia, took a shot at one recent comment from Wayne Bennett. The coach of the NRL’s new Dolphins club in 2023 niggled that grassroots rugby was struggling. 

“Tell me how many rugby league clubs in the country have nine Under-6 teams like Brothers or nearly 2000 players in juniors, grades, women’s and modified rugby,” McLean said.  

“GPS and Easts have 1000-plus as well and club rugby is really healthy which is grassroots to me. 

“Yes, rugby league clubs hand out scholarships to players who attend GPS schools. They have for years but it’s still down to doing the Talent ID so the right young players are selected for rugby. 

“You have boys in Year 11 and Year 12 right now who could well aim at playing at the 2027 World Cup in Australia and that’s an exciting goal.”   

The golden runway of sporting events in the river city over the 10 years before we even reach the Brisbane Olympics is real, not a mirage. 

The word “never” was shouted a lot down south when Brisbane’s chances of ever hosting an NRL grand final, the AFL’s season climax and the Olympics were raised. 

Well, here we sit in 2022 with ticks against three of the most sought-after major events in sports for Australians. You can now add a big piece of the Rugby World Cup and the growing women’s version in 2029. 

Already on the calendar this year is cricket’s T20 Men’s World Cup, even though hosting fewer games at the Gabba (four) than Hobart or Geelong is no signal of strong State Government support. 

FIFA World Cup matches for women are coming to town in 2023, rugby’s massive travelling roadshow for the British and Irish Lions tour will pass through in 2025, the 2026 BMX World Championships have been secured for Brisbane and on it rolls. 

Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner said Brisbane’s major events track record and status as a future Olympic city put it in prime shape. 

“We are thrilled the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups are coming to Australia and believe Brisbane will be in the best position to showcase its world-class credentials so close to the 2032 Olympics,” the Lord Mayor said. 

“The projected economic impact of the 2027 World Cup is worth $169 million to Queensland which will flow into Brisbane. 

“Brisbane’s future as an Olympic city puts us in the box seat to secure a suite of high-profile sporting events. 

“A $15 billion infrastructure pipeline, new luxury hotels and thriving lifestyle and entertainment precincts in Queensland’s welcoming weather means Brisbane has much to offer as a host city. 

“The more major events we sure secure over the next decade, the more opportunities we have to encourage people to return for the 2032 Olympics.” 

The city’s appetite for major events is already voracious now COVID restrictions are less disruptive. 

Not even the latest big wet will dampen the large turnout for the NRL’s Magic Round over the next three days at Suncorp Stadium. This is worth an estimated $22.5 million bang of economic impact for the city across just a few days. 

The rush to enjoy Brisbane’s winter racing carnival at Eagle Farm and Doomben reflects the same mood to get out and live the normal lives stolen from many in 2020-21.  

Jason Leung, the Brisbane Racing Club’s General Manager of Sales and Hospitality, said the reaction to TAB 10,000 Day (on Saturday), Moet & Chandon Derby Day (May 28), TAB Stradbroke Day (June 11) and a full event list had been exceptional. 

“Corporates and racegoers are really wanting those moments of luxury coming out of COVID years and there’s a mindset of Queenslanders to really enjoy this carnival,” Leung said. 

“We went on sale in January and within six weeks 80 per cent of our private suites and event spaces were booked.” 

That includes a sellout of 480 places in the St Leger Marquee for the running of the Stradbroke at Eagle Farm where $550-$750 keeps the seafood, Moet and trimmings flowing non-stop. 

“More and more, we’ll be incorporating a dining experience with a hotel room and travel to push the carnival’s appeal more widely because this next decade is the best time to be in Queensland,” Leung said. 

Jim Tucker has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media. He has covered seven Rugby World Cups and cut his losses in a failed 1987 World Cup T-shirt venture by selling the final 200 at $2 a pop.  

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