World Rugby is taking disciplinary action against the Scottish Rugby Union for remarks made by its chief executive, Mark Dodson, over the potential cancellation of last Sunday’s match against Japan due to Typhoon Hagibis.
Dodson held a media conference on Friday night having been interviewed on a national radio station in Britain and said the tournament regulations – which stipulated a called-off match could not be moved to another day, and which his union had accepted having signed the participation agreement – were far from watertight.
He did not accept that there was no scope for the organisers to reschedule after being told that if the game did not go ahead against Japan on Sunday it would be cancelled and recorded as a 0-0 draw.
He said his union would consider legal action. “My view is that we are not going to let Scotland be the collateral damage for a decision that was taken in haste,” he added. Scotland returned home early anyway after losing 28-21 to the hosts who face South Africa in Sunday’s quarter-final here.
“The tournament rules are clear about appropriate behaviour,” said Alan Gilpin, the tournament director at a media briefing on Tuesday. “As a result, we have asked an independent disputes committee to look at the behaviour and comments of the Scottish union. Because of that, it would be inappropriate to comment any further.”
The charge will be misconduct through bringing the game into disrepute. The committee will be set up “as soon as possible” although the organisers did not say what punishment Scotland could face. There is no precedent in the World Cup, but last year the Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal was fined €75,000 for misconduct after making disparaging remarks about the organisers of the European Champions Cup and condoning homophobic remarks.
The one punishment that could hurt Scotland on the pitch is to dock them points from their pool. They finished third, which ensures their pre-qualification for the 2023 World Cup in France, six points above Samoa. A fine is the most likely sanction if they are found guilty.
Gilpin said the three matches that were called off on the weekend due to the typhoon could not be staged elsewhere on the days they were meant to be played because Hagibis affected such a wide area of Japan. He added that, contrary to reports, no union had a say in the decision.
He also paid tribute to the army of staff and volunteers who worked through Saturday night and into Sunday morning to ensure the match between Japan and Scotland went ahead in Yokohama.
“I can only pay tribute to their desire for the match to be played and their resilience in ensuring it was,” he said. “Some of the venue staff slept at the stadium overnight so they would be able to immediately assess any damage caused by the typhoon. Others turned up that morning despite their houses being destroyed. They just wanted to make it happen and it was another sign of the remarkable commitment to the tournament shown by so many here. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”
World Rugby has been criticised for bringing the tournament to a country that suffers an average of 36 typhoons a year but its chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont, said he would have “no hesitation at all” in recommending Japan for another tournament, adding that he did not think this would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young supporters here.
“Hagibis was not just a typhoon but the most powerful one in Japan for 60 years,” said Gilpin. “It was something exceptional.” Asked whether concerns about what is happening to the climate throughout the world would prompt the organisers to look at the format, he added: “Of course.
“We are already looking at issues such as whether teams should have more than 31 players in their squads and whether to increase the number of participating teams from 20 to 24. We will consider the length of the tournament and every decision we take will be based first on player welfare.”
The three cancellations blotted the end of the pool stage, but otherwise records here have been broken. Ticket sales are 99 per cent, one per cent better than England in 2015, record numbers have attended the fan zones and more than 200,000 Japan replica jerseys have been sold. Social media reach has never been greater with 650m video views so far.
The push now is for Japan to get greater international recognition rather than return to the relative obscurity of tier two competition. “I am sure there will be many treasurers of tier one unions who will relish the chance of giving Japan a fixture,” said Beaumont. “They will attract fans because of their incredible style of play.” – Guardian