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Rugby World Cup: Claude Atcher: ‘Let’s be proud!’

Credit: PA Images

Tuesday, April 26 was marked by a number of emails dropping into inboxes around the rugby world with the subject line: J-500.

Spam filters didn’t know quite what to make of it, but the contents of the mail were clear enough, Tuesday, April 26 is exactly 500 days out from the start of the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France, which currently carries enormous promise.

Impressive progress

There have been remarkably few bumps in the road – pandemic uncertainties notwithstanding. The initial process for getting tickets online was a bit of a nightmare, but it would not be the first event in which online demand caused a server to overload or a system to creak at the seams.

But the rest… the rest is pretty impressive. The stadia are ready, the country is ready, the fans are ready and a number of teams are looking in fine form, not least the hosts themselves.

So as the milestone passed, Claude Atcher, Director of the Tournament, gave French rugby magazine Midi-Olympique a full status report on the rugby tournament that has the potential to swell the game’s popularity and profile to new proportions.

“This 500 days, this is a good point to stop and consider where we are, and what we still have to do,” he said.

“It’s been five years on this already. Time has passed at an incredible speed and the next 17 months it will only seem to go faster.”

While in the past there has been disquiet among the populations of hosting countries, France’s World Cup has met with almost unanimous approval from the populace. The 2007 edition has lived long in the memory, not least some of the games such as Georgia’s valiant display against Ireland, Fiji’s stunning win against Wales and Samoa’s near miss against South Africa.

It was a tournament with a superb atmosphere throughout and given the current enthusiasm of the French public, we can expect more of the same.

“Today, 89% of (the French public) are very much in favor of hosting a World Cup in France, in 2023. And 74% want to participate,” continued Atcher.

“From now on, we will go much more to meet our audiences, we will increase our audience on social networks, communicate directly with our fans and the general public to spread the word: this World Cup will be an unforgettable event. Memorable.

“…the objective is that it is a great party, a moment of sharing. Believe me, the best is yet to come. We must do everything we can to ensure that, for 51 days, the French, foreign visitors, players and all participants can enjoy this moment. Above all, let them remember it all their lives.

“Let us celebrate all fraternities. Fraternity is attached to our sport, but it must go beyond the field. All the subjects at the heart of our project will revolve around fraternity. For me, that’s our mission.”

Atcher talked about countless initiatives, including the recycling initiative in partnership with Orange, where discarded mobile phones are being collected by clubs and the precious metals extracted and melted down to make the World Cup medals.

He also talked about the opening ceremony, which was greeted in 2007 with a fair bit of derision and criticism.

“We already wrote the theme of the opening ceremony,” he said.

“I have the will to make it a fair moment, full of emotions and surprises. The images that will be shown must testify to what the France is. Let’s be proud! Let’s share French culture, joie de vivre, know-how, cinema, music, fashion and craftsmanship.

“An event cannot be successful if it is not accepted by the general public, carried by the collective imagination as a moment of grace and sharing for an entire country.”

All of the teams are to be based on specific towns and cities for the duration of the tournament, as such the cities and their populations have been encouraged to adopt their team and welcome them. An important and fun initiative as well, but only if the teams participate…

“We will make sure that the players go to the meetings of the supporters and the inhabitants of the cities in which they are settled,” said Atcher.

“I always plan to drop the players off the stadiums before the games, and that each team opens to the public much more than one training session a week.

“Wherever this World Cup is going to be offered to people, everyone must be able to find pleasure in it.”

Sure, but it would also help if the French performed a little better than at the 2007 edition, where France were stunned by Argentina in the opening game, therefore ending up causing one of the biggest shocks of the history of the game by beating New Zealand in Cardiff, rather than Paris.

There will be no chance of such away games this time as all of the matches are in France, while the French team, fresh off a Grand Slam, is a dark horse for the tournament at worst, if not outright favorites in the minds of many .

There are talismanic players such as Antoine Dupont, a generation of young talents with links to the past such as Romain Ntamack and the team is playing with panache, style and grit all mixed.

“The France team collectively carries the hope of being world champion, through the performance of its players but also the organization of its staff,” lauded Atcher.

“The team carries a positive image, with strong words associated with it: smile, intelligence, humility, sense of the collective, solidarity.”

But another part of the mission of a World Cup is to carry the message of rugby to new territories and countries. France is hosting the Africa zone qualifying tournament in July, a four-team playoff which Atcher sees both as a dress rehearsal for the tournament itself and as an opportunity to give African rugby increased exposure.

“This is an opportunity to demonstrate that the legacy of the World Cup will go beyond the framework of the France: African teams will be placed in optimal conditions of success, benefiting from the same facilities as the great teams of the World Cup, with support and coaching that will allow them to practice at the best level,” said Atcher.

“This is not always the case in the regional tournaments of the qualification phases.

“We have 35,000 tickets for sale and we will do it on the same basis of the World Cup, with the same team, methodologies and commitment.

“I’m not worried about the success of the ticket office. We covered the budget with public and private partnerships, the State described this event as a major event, not to mention the French Development Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which will release credits to help the development of African federations. Finally, we have a guarantee of broadcast in more than 20 countries.

“France 2023 covers all costs related to the organization while the countries involved receive grants from World Rugby, which cover the entire costs. As a result, this aid will allow African federations to organize other events, including a major African tournament which is a major issue for Rugby Africa. Finally, it will benefit women’s rugby which will obviously not be forgotten.”

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