By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) - The COVID-19 pandemic has left many unions struggling to stay afloat but while it is difficult for some to even consider hosting a Rugby World Cup the financial benefits that come with staging it means there is no lack of interest, World Rugby's Chief Operating Officer Alan Gilpin told Reuters.
With the next men's World Cup to be held in France in 2023, the game's governing body is now in the process of gauging interest in hosting the 2027 and 2031 tournaments as well as the women's events in 2025 and 2029.
Russia and Australia have already put their names into the hat for 2027 and Gilpin, who is also the governing body's Head of Rugby World Cup, expects more to follow.
"There is strong interest, really strong interest, which is great. So, that is our starting point and we are really thrilled," Gilpin said from his home in Epsom, south of London.
The pandemic saw huge swathes of the rugby calendar wiped out at both club and international level last year. 2019 Rugby World Cup hosts Japan and winners South Africa did not play a single test in 2020.
World Rugby was fortunate to have the financial windfall from Japan 2019 to aid struggling unions and Gilpin recognises the strain member unions are under.
"There is no doubt that for our members – and for their governments, because this is a government discussion as well – this a more difficult discussion in the current context," said Gilpin, who is tipped to take over from Brett Gosper as World Rugby CEO.
"Even though those unions that are currently interested are under a lot of pressure and their resources are currently under a lot of pressure, I think many of them would see future hosting as a kind of horizon beyond all of this.
"I think it almost becomes more important to some of those unions and some of those countries."
Japan was the most "economically successful" Rugby World Cup, generating $5.62 billion in economic output, according to a report. It added almost $3 billion to Japan's GDP, World Rugby quoted the report as saying.
Gilpin said World Rugby was also open to the possibility of sharing the burden of hosting.
"Because I think we recognise that for some of our members hosting a Rugby World Cup on its own is such a big undertaking that actually joint-nation bids, or multi-territory bids, are certainly something we are open to," he added.
"We have had discussions around that with several interested parties."
A decision on the next hosts of the men’s and women’s World Cups will come in May 2022.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)