1987 Rugby World Cup

Page 5 – A world cup at last

A successful tournament

New Zealand and Australia staged a successful tournament, largely thanks to a host of volunteers. The timing was fortunate. Volunteerism would soon decline in the sporting sector, as elsewhere, in response to the same economic forces that were promoting professional rugby. The crowds for pool matches were larger than many expected. Hundreds of millions watched on television around the world, and the tournament made a profit despite West Nally’s demise.

In the end the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB) had conceded ground on several issues that might have blighted the Rugby World Cup. The players’ daily allowance was increased. A complaint that the All Black captain had been paid to appear in a television advertisement was quietly shelved after the advertisement was pulled from the air. Now the IRFB was accepting large sums of money from sponsors, it seemed hypocritical to insist that players receive no payment for rugby-related activities either on or off the field.

Rugby had established itself as a commercial market, and the financial viability of the world cup concept was assured. Some purists now argued that holding a regular world cup – the second one would be in the northern hemisphere in 1991 – would help stave off professional rugby. How wrong they were would become clear in 1995.

The legacy

From tentative beginnings in 1987, the Rugby World Cup has become established as one of the world’s major international sporting events. World cups have since also been held for women’s rugby and at age-group level. The first women’s event was staged in Britain in 1991 in defiance of the patriarchs of the IRFB.

But has the World Cup been good for the game? Spiro Zavos, who wrote Watching the Rugby World Cup (2007), is one of many sports writers who believe that rugby badly needed a world cup. He thinks it has improved playing standards at the top level and shown that rugby really is a global game. Others, like Joseph Romanos, argue that the tournaments that have been held every four years since 1987 have achieved neither goal. These arguments continued as New Zealand hosted the tournament again in 2011.

How to cite this page

'A world cup at last', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/1987-rugby-world-cup/success, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012