Typhoon Hagibis Rains on Rugby World Cup Parade

Chris Wyatt, Tokyo, October 10th, 2019

While it should not come as a shock, it is perhaps still a little surprising for rugby fans wrapped up in the Rugby World Cup festivities as we wind down the pool stage here in Japan.  World Rugby took a big risk granting the 2019 games to Japan.  There were plenty of worries; language, a non-traditional rugby nation, the great distances between venues, remote venues and the potential impact of Mother Nature.  Japan overcame all of those, at least until early this afternoon when organizers held a press conference and announced the cancellation of two games on the penultimate day of the pool stage this Saturday, October 12th.

Visiting international rugby fans and even hometown Japanese are now scrambling to get from one place to another, cancel or amend hotel and train reservations as well as hoping for the best as we all attempt to avoid Typhoon Hagibus, which is expected to make landfall near Tokyo on Saturday.  World Rugby has already canceled the City of Toyota Stadium game in Aichi Prefecture between New Zealand and Italy, assuring Italy a winning record at 2-1-1, but preventing them from moving on (which was unlikely against the All Blacks anyway).  They also canceled the much-anticipated England versus France game in Yokohama.  All four teams get a draw and two points on the table.  While safety is paramount, this hardly whets rugby fans’ appetites.

The Cricket World Cup in England this past June failed to schedule adequate makeup days and saw a few matches canceled, each cancellation resulting in a draw.  Will World Rugby also be the recipient of some criticism for the Hagibus cancellations?  One can hardly blame World Rugby.  That said, they did take a big risk as far as nature.  Japan sits on top of the Pacific Ring of Fire with shifting tectonic plates and volcanic activity an ever-present danger.  This is the land of frequent natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, and yes even typhoons.  So, the decision was not without significant risk. For all the possibility of trouble from nature, we nearly got through the entire pool stage even though typhoons earlier threatened games.

The question, if one is even warranted, should be “is it fair to criticize World Rugby for the cancellations?”  Part of the reason World Rugby awarded Japan the 2019 Rugby World Cup was the recognition on their part that the game is the fastest growing team sport on the planet, and it has moved well beyond the traditional Six Nations and Rugby Championship countries.  At some point, it had to go outside the traditional countries.  Japan has a huge rugby following, a professional team that competed internationally (the Sunwolves) and healthy domestic competition too.  Many top rugby players come to Japan to earn paychecks.  Japan was almost a natural destination for a world cup.  In 2019, there were few other non-traditional rugby nation options, and 2019 was the correct time for World Rugby to venture outside its comfort zone in order to grow rugby union as a sport.  So, again. is it fair to criticize World Rugby for the Typhoon Hagibus match cancellations?  I would vote no.

Whether one gets angry with World Rugby or not, most of us foreign visitors are now scrambling to figure out what we need to do to sort ourselves out.  For my part, I have a non-refundable hotel reservation in a hotel I already was not happy with when I checked in.  I also went to Tokyo today while the weather was superb so as not to miss an opportunity to see the sights downtown on the assumption that I might not get another chance.  I ran into England, Scotland and All Blacks fans who were in the same boat rowing around in circles with me.  Later I spoke to several Japanese who will now miss their only opportunity to see any games.  I’m headed back to my hotel outside Shizuoka on the Shinkansen (express bullet train), racing ahead of the weather.  Authorities have stated that not only are rugby games canceled, but trains are likely to be suspended and flights out of Tokyo as well.  The knock-on effect (no rugby pun intended there!) will be painful if public transportation is impacted over the next three days.  I don’t even want to contemplate using the trains after weather cancellations, given all the additional passenger traffic related to the world cup.

I have been to 15 games thus far and had three remaining.  After the City of Toyota game was canceled this afternoon I have just two, for the moment.  Assuming no further cancellations, I will now see 17, not the 18 games I intended to attend at this world cup.  It is hardly the end of the world, but after four years of planning, it is nonetheless a little bittersweet.  France has the next Rugby World Cup.  Weather should not be a major factor there.  Still, few rugby fans are fortunate to attend any games so far from home.  This has been an amazing experience so far.  A typhoon is not going to spoil it for me, though I do feel the disappoint of others.  The Rugby World is not just a world cup, it’s a huge event for rugby union families all over the globe to come together; either in person or virtually.

Today in Tokyo at the Imperial Palace I had an interesting encounter with a Belgian fan of Scotland that reinforces the closeness the game brings out in nearly all of us.  As I started to head down the hill and out of the gardens I ran into a Scotland and an England fan. We briefly updated each other on what we had heard thus far about the game cancellations and possibly of public transport disruptions.  At the top of the hill, a gentleman had given me an odd look.  I thought perhaps it was because I was wearing the Japan jersey. Suddenly in the middle of the conversation, he comes down the hill and asks me, “excuse me, but is this you?” as he showed me his mobile phone.  There I was on some unknown person’s Facebook posting wearing that same Japan jersey — over a week ago in Toyota City.  So the next time that someone tells you they “don’t get rugby,” tell them it is about much more than what happens on the pitch.

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Chris Wyatt is a guest journalist for DJCoil Rugby who is attending the 2019 Rugby World Cup. His periodic articles will provide another perspective for matches attended.

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