DUBLIN, Ireland — Expect to hear the word “runway” a lot over the next decade in and around rugby corridors. That’s the crux of why World Rugby announced the hosts of the next five Rugby World Cups on Thursday — to give the sport enough time to plan their next global gatherings with precision, sustainability and a goal of maximizing their impact.

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The announcement in Dublin at the Convention Center sounds the starting bell to a nine-year build-up to the 2031 men’s Rugby World Cup in the US, followed two years later by the women’s tournament. This is a monumental statement of intent from the sport to try and crack that elusive market once and for all. But before the 2031 and 2033 World Cups come four other editions. With the men’s tournament in France in 2023 already confirmed, attention will then shift to England for the women’s 2025 World Cup before Australia then play host to both the men’s and women’s in 2027 and 2029, respectively.

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This is all part of a new model for World Rugby — the body in charge of the sport. Previously, individual countries would try and tempt the council to vote for their vision of a World Cup, make a financial guarantee and then run it themselves. But under the guise of new CEO Alan Gilpin, this model has changed and instead of a host country getting near autonomy to run the tournament, World Rugby are now joint partners in any future competition. This gives the sport enough breathing room to map out the next decade. The runway’s there for the sport, now they just have to get the planes in the right order and with the correct amount of fuel, and passengers aboard.

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The historic announcement comes at yet another tipping point moment for the sport. The conversations in and around rugby’s corridors of power over the past couple of days have been around the global calendar, and how they can align the north and south’s schedules, while also developing the Tier 2 nations, who so often have to live off scraps from the top table. For the women’s game, the introduction of the new WXV tournament shows progress there but still, the hope is the next decade of World Cups will help propel the sport to a new level both in terms of participation and awareness.

After France 2023, attention will shift to England. The organizers of the 2025 Women’s World Cup will pay close attention to how the country delivers this summer’s women’s European Championships in football, but it is a tournament already with over £10m funding behind it from the government for the legacy program with the goal of securing 60,000 new players in the game, alongside 1,000 match officials and 500 coaches. The newly expanded tournament sees 16 teams compete instead of the previous 12 and will end up at a sold-out Twickenham. The form of the England team at present will also aid the cause to make this the most highly attended women’s Rugby World Cup in history, with Simon Middleton’s team No. 1 in the world, 23 matches unbeaten and overwhelming favorites to lift the title later this year in New Zealand.

The focus of the rugby world will then head to the southern hemisphere for the 2027 men’s World Cup and the 2029 women’s World Cup. For Australia, it gives the sport a chance to right the wrongs of the 2003 legacy, where the AUS$45 million generated hardly led to sustained success at club, or country level. The sport still lives in the shadow of Australian Rules football, rugby league, cricket and soccer, but as Hamish McLennan, the Rugby Australia chairman says, getting both tournaments — as part of Australia’s decade of sport including the 2025 British & Irish Lions tour and 2032 Olympics — means they can “reboot” the sport in the country.

McLennan sees the two World Cups as an opportunity for the money generated to become an “investment vehicle to drive long-term sustainability” while also providing “the necessary runway to fix structural issues in the game and to provide a platform to showcase this global game .” Australia came to the party late offering to host the 2029 women’s Rugby World Cup, but they’ll also use this chance to change the Wallaroos’ fortunes after they had to wait 958 days between Tests before beating Fiji at the weekend, and then losing to Japan on Tuesday.

If the Australian bid is as close to a sure thing success story as possible, then awarding the following World Cup to the US is a risk. There have been numerous false dawns for rugby in the US Their match back in 2014 against the All Blacks at Soldier Field was billed as the moment the giant awakened, but it did little than enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight and then slip back into the unknown. When CEO Ross Young joined the organization in 2018, USA Rugby was in financial strife at the time — a series of agreements with external companies had proven to be poor investments, and while the intentions were all with the goal of turning this part of the world into a rugby stronghold, there weren’t any foundations beneath the grandiose plans.

In June 2020, six years after that false dawn in Chicago, USA Rugby filed for bankruptcy — that announcement coming just a couple of years after World Rugby stumped up $4m to cover the outstanding cost of hosting the World Cup Sevens in 2018 in San Francisco. The knock-on effects of COVID-19 had ruined the organization. “Not overstating, it was the worst six months, seven months of my life,” Young tells Sportzshala. “Not just dealing with a pandemic, but trying to keep things afloat with the support of keeping young, great people with some losing their jobs. It’s soul-destroying.” The organization successfully came through the process by the end of August 2020 and they’ve since rebuilt. But the scars run deep, and those lessons will prove invaluable for how they negotiate the “runway” — as they call it — in the run-up to 2031 and 2033.

“We’ve learned some very harsh lessons other last few years, and we can’t live hand to mouth, which has happened for years,” Youngs says. “It takes something like COVID-19, and you can’t exist through it. But how do we know to build in the right way without trying to run before we can walk?”

The US has long been seen as the “north star” for the sport, as one source puts it. There have been many attempts to crack the market, but none have yet succeeded. But a combination of factors like the continued presence of rugby in the Olympics, women’s rugby granted NCAA emerging sport status, the growing footprint of Major League Rugby (MLR) and an acceptance of where things went wrong in the past, means there is optimism around the next decade. The World Cup, as USA Rugby’s COO Johnathan Atkeison says, offers the country “the opportunity to turn those glimpses of potential into a sustainable and concrete reality.”

The whole process is expected to cost in the region of $500m and has received bipartisan support, alongside the seal of approval from President Joe Biden, who wrote a letter to World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont promising regulatory support and infrastructural guarantees. The possibility of external investment is also hovering above this bid, with one source telling Sportzshala that once Silver Lake complete their investment in the All Blacks, they could turn attention to the US There’s a huge market there to be tapped into.

The 2031 and 2033 World Cups have 25 or so venue bids on the table from all over the country. World Rugby delegates have already been shown around the Denver Bronco’s impressive Empower Field home. One possibility could see the tournament start in the west of the country and gradually move east. “We want to build towards something and building towards one of the biggest geographies,” Young says. There is also the possibility of using localized pools, where each group plays in a different part of the country before congregating for its grand finish.

The destination of the final is yet to be decided, but the smart money would be on New York hosting the showpiece event. “That’s all the detail that we’ll get stuck into,” Young says. “We’re a little bit spoilt for choice because there are there are a number of hubs — it’s not just like England, where the final could only be Twickenham or Wembley.”

Another factor the organizers must figure out is when to schedule both tournaments (not an easy thing when it comes to the annual machinations and continued filibustering around the global calendar). Sources say World Rugby would prefer it stays in its existing October-November window, but that would clash with the NFL season and may render some potential venues unavailable. But the expectation is middle ground will be found to satisfy all parties, which begs the question to what exactly both World Cups will feel like.

Jim Brown, the USA Rugby World Cup bid chair, has held roles at FIFA and was a key figure in bringing the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles and football’s 2026 World Cup to the US His vision for the World Cup, and the one proposed, will see it marry tradition with unique local nuances. “I don’t think it’d be a revolution,” Brown tells Sportzshala. “Certainly there’s a natural tendency to absorb some of the local culture, which we hope everybody finds at some stage to be a positive for the overall game, and not necessarily impacting those who are more traditionalist in a negative way at all.”

But anchoring it all is legacy and leaving a footprint of sustainable interest and participation in the sport, and a grassroots system which can help grow the national teams. Essential to this all is buy-in from the various stakeholders. The involvement of World Rugby as partners in this project means they’ll be a guiding hand and will help bring the various disparate bodies to the table. MLR — sanctioned by USA Rugby but a separate body — will be essential to this, as will other leagues like the NFL and MLS, where franchises there have declared an interest in hosting matches in both World Cups (95% of bids from stadiums to host matches are for both 2031 and 2033 competitions).

Young…