By Nick Said
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa sports minister Thulas Nxesi has strongly defended his country's bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup following criticism of the evaluation process by its rivals.
South Africa was announced as the preferred candidate to stage the tournament ahead of France and Ireland after an evaluation by the Rugby World Cup Board that scored the bids on a range of criteria.
The 1995 hosts emerged as the clear winner, but the results were disputed by French federation president Bernard Laporte, who called them "nonsense", and his Irish counterpart Philip Browne.
“It would be understandable if those sentiments were largely informed by disappointment,” Nxesi said in a statement. “It is our firm conviction that World Rugby has run a rigorous and professional process of unimpeachable integrity.”
The final decision will be made following a vote in London on Wednesday.
Nxesi said the criticism of the country’s ability as hosts was not unlike the scepticism ahead of the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which proved a success both commercially and for the country’s image.
“Even during the 2010 FIFA World Cup bidding process, our competitors and their fellow detractors had mounted a concerted smear campaign to besmirch and malign South Africa's bid,” Nxesi said.
“They alleged that our country was grossly ill-prepared to host such a big event. They further declared our country to be the crime capital of the world. They prophesised impending doom and gloom that would befall the tournament, and to tourists and fans coming to our shores.
“All of the prophecies indeed came to nought. These latter day prophets and naysayers will again be proven wrong.”
Other than England, South Africa is the only country to host a soccer, cricket and rugby World Cup.
“We have a long history of major, incident-free mega events and we have developed expertise over many years in our security services to ensure that remains so,” Nxesi said.
“Our financial guarantee to World Rugby is irrevocable, the bid team’s ticketing plan will ensure minimum capacity of 91 percent over the tournament with some tickets provided free to communities and others costing as little as R55 (US$3.85) for some matches.”
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond)