World Cup bid chief fears Australian rugby could become ‘third-tier sport’

Australian rugby could become a “third-tier sport” unless the Wallabies host the World Cup in 2027, according to two-time tournament winner Phil Kearns.

Kearns has become executive bid director for Australia’s tilt at hosting the tournament in seven years’ time, and the 67-cap former hooker feels the nation is in dire need of a chance to stage the global contest.

The 53-year-old helped Australia win the World Cup in both 1991 and 1999, and is now helming the Wallabies’ bid for host status in seven years’ time.

“There was some talk that we were a second-tier sport heading to a third-tier sport,” said Kearns.

“Now certainly by winning this it would give us the opportunity that we won’t be going to third tier, but also that we’ve got the potential to go to a first-tier sport in this country, not a second tier.

“If you go back to the late 90s and early 2000s we were a tier-one sport in this country, no doubt about it.

“And we can’t escape the fact that we’ve gone backwards.

“Now this gives us an opportunity to turn that around for the long-term.”

World Rugby’s official hosting bidding process will open in February 2021, with the 2027 host decision expected in May 2022.

Australia are the front-runners to host a World Cup outright for the first time since 2003, with the Wallabies having also shared hosting duties with New Zealand for the inaugural 1987 competition.

Kearns hopes his new appointment can represent the first step in a wider healing process for Rugby Australia.

RUGBY Kearns cleans the ball
RUGBY Kearns cleans the ball

The 53-year-old was instrumental in open criticism of Australia’s governing body earlier this year, and that pressure from a group of former Wallaby captains led to chief executive Raelene Castle’s resignation.

Rob Clarke has since stepped into an interim CEO role at Rugby Australia, with Kearns having previously eyed up taking that post permanently.

But now Kearns has insisted he will focus instead on spearheading the Wallabies’ World Cup bid.

Asked if he still has any designs on the chief executive role, Kearns said: “I think this will put paid to that aspiration.

“There’s a couple of big roles in Australian Rugby at the moment, and this is certainly one of them.

“And I guess what swayed me was the importance of this in terms of the future financial health of our game.

“If you look at the numbers in the last few World Cups, Japan generated 7.5billion US dollars economic value for Japan.

“And we’ll be coming out of a downturn of Covid-19 by then.

“This could be a really critical boost to our economy right around the country.

“But also from a junior rugby perspective it’s important to have our game underpinned by a positive financial future.”