• Murray McCully
Sport Fitness and Leisure

Southern Hemisphere rugby rivals New Zealand and Australia today announced they are joining forces to submit a joint bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2003.

The two countries successfully hosted the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, and are leading contenders in the race to host the 2003 event. Other countries expected to bid are England, France and South Africa.

"We believe we have a better chance of hosting the tournament working with Australia," said New Zealand Rugby Football Union Chief Executive Officer David Moffett.

"By sharing the tournament, it improves New Zealand's chance of jointly staging the tournament every 16 years as opposed to perhaps having the opportunity every 32 years."

The Minister of Sport, Fitness and Leisure Murray McCully has endorsed the joint bid on behalf of the New Zealand Government.

"The spin-off for this country could be huge, with the linkages between sport and tourism having the potential to deliver substantial economic benefits for New Zealanders," said Mr McCully.

"The Government will be looking to harvest those opportunities and lend greater support to similar initiatives through into the next millennium."

The Hillary Commission has also pledged its support to New Zealand's joint bid.

If the bid is successful, Australia will be the official host union as per the International Rugby Board's tender regulations. However, New Zealanders will not be disappointed with the number of games played here.

Each country will host 50 per cent of the tournament with 20 pool matches, two quarter finals and one semi final each. Australia will host the final, and New Zealand will host the third and fourth play off.

That means New Zealand will host only eight matches less than was played during the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

The agreement for the Australian Rugby Union to be the host is on the understanding that in future joint bids to host the RWC tournament, the NZRFU and ARU would rotate the role of host.

A combined organising committee consisting of three representatives from each country will be appointed this month.

Dick McGruther, Chairman of Australian Rugby said: "This is an exciting and innovative arrangement between the two unions and is designed to improve our opportunities to ensure that the RWC tournament is held in this region as regularly as possible."

The RWC is now arguably the third most important sporting tournament in the world following the Olympic Games and the Soccer World Cup. It involves teams from all over the rugby globe and is a magnificent sporting spectacle.

In addition, it adds tremendous economic value and benefit to the two countries given the significant number of visitors who will attend the tournament.

The deadline for tenders has been extended until September 30 1997, and a final decision will be made in January 1998. The next Rugby World Cup will be hosted by Wales in 1999.