Tsunami-hit city among venues for 2019 Rugby World Cup
Mar. 02, 2015
DUBLIN (AP) — A city devastated by Japan's 2011 earthquake and tsunami was named Monday as one of a dozen host venues for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, an event designed to develop the sport in its biggest emerging market of Asia.
Leaders of the World Rugby organizing body and Japan's tournament committee met in Dublin to confirm the host cities from a list of 15 possible venues across Japan.
They said Japan already boasted a wide range of medium-sized stadiums ready to host rugby, while the biggest — the planned 80,000-seat, 150 billion yen ($1.9 billion) National Stadium in Tokyo being constructed as the centerpiece for the 2020 Olympic Games — would host the opening match Sept. 6, 2019, and the final on Oct. 20.
But the World Cup's commitment to tiny Kamaishi, a coastal city of barely 30,000 residents about 450 kilometers (275 miles) northeast of Tokyo, commanded particular attention.
Officials said its tsunami-ravaged stadium site would be redeveloped into the 16,187-seat Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium in honor of the more than 1,200 residents killed when waves as high as 14 feet (4 meters) crashed into the city on March 11, 2011.
"Kamaishi was the point at which the tsunami hit the coast of Japan, and it was devastated," Rugby World Cup director Alan Gilpin told The Associated Press. "If the Rugby World Cup can be a part of the recovery of that area, that will be a fantastic story."
The Rugby World Cup chairman, Bernard Lapasset, said organizers wanted to ensure a strong geographic spread for venues to ensure it would "be an event for the entire nation of Japan."
To that end, matches will be staged on Japan's three largest islands. Kamaishi, Kobe, Osaka, Shizuoka, Yokohama, Toyota, Tokyo and the Tokyo suburb of Saitama all feature on the home island of Honshu. Sapporo, the largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido, and three stadiums on the westernmost island of Kyushu complete the picture.
But in a country where rugby comes a distant third in team-sport popularity to baseball and soccer, questions abound as to whether the Japanese will care enough to fill a dozen stadia for the 20-team, 48-match event. The national team's dismal record in the past seven Rugby World Cups barely inspires enthusiasm, with just one win in 24 matches.
Akira Shimazu, chairman of Japan's Rugby 2019 organizing committee, said Japanese officials would closely study how England runs the 2015 tournament starting in September. He expressed confidence that every match in Japan would be a sellout.
When asked whether any particular location might pose a difficulty for traveling fans, he said with a smile: "None. They're all going to be full."