Many in Russia can’t understand why rugby isn’t more popular in the country. Given it’s a physical contact sport requiring high levels of discipline and toughness it seems almost tailor-made for the Russian psyche.
While the game thrives in some clusters – most notably in Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk – it isn’t popular nationwide like soccer or ice hockey. Some believe the harsh climate in most of Russia works against the sport – which is popular in countries with more temperate winters, such as France, New Zealand and Britain.
Now, the Russian Rugby Federation has confirmed that it is preparing an application to host the Rugby World Cup in 2027, in an initiative supported by President Vladimir Putin. As things stand, just one other country plans to apply for the event – rugby powerhouse and two-time world champion Australia. Argentina was also due to bid but pulled out, citing economic reasons, earlier this year.
The campaign to stage the event will begin in 2021, with the international governing body World Rugby due to make a decision in 2022.
The Russia men’s side, who currently sit in 20th place in the Men’s World Rugby Rankings, finished in last place in their 2019 World Cup group, losing every game. It was only the second time the country had qualified for the tournament. Even then, the team only made it to Japan because Romania and Spain, along with Belgium, broke the eligibility rules and were disqualified.
The team’s current coach, former Welsh international Lyn Jones, has called the country the ‘sleeping bear’ of rugby and he supports the bid. The five-times capped flanker has been in charge of the side since 2018, with mixed results. Earlier this year they lost to Spain in Sochi, and Belgium away. They fared better against Portugal and Romania, with wins in Kaliningrad and Krasnodar, respectively. A trip to Tbilisi in March to face a strong Georgian team was postponed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If selected as host it would be the latest in a long line of international events hosted by the world’s largest country. In 2014, the Russian seaside city of Sochi played host to the Winter Olympics, before Russia held the successful 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The Rugby World Cup bid would draw on many of the stadiums built for the soccer tournament, with Krasnoyarsk, Penza and Krasnodar also likely to be in the frame for games, given that those cities have strong professional club sides.