September 16, 2019 / 9:12 AM / a month ago

Sapporo readies for rugby's big drinkers at World Cup

SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) - There is excitement in the air, mixed with a sense of trepidation, in Sapporo as the northern Japanese city prepares itself for an influx of rugby fans during the opening weekend of the World Cup.

Australia face Fiji and England take on Tonga in back-to-back matches on Sept. 21 and 22, with over 80,000 fans expected in the city over the weekend.

As the most northerly World Cup venue, Sapporo was allocated just two games at the beginning of the tournament — before the weather worsens — but the city intends to make the most of it.

Officials say they are hoping the matches help bring in 4.7 billion yen (£35.4 million) of revenue to the local economy across the weekend.

Sapporo welcomed 2.52 million visitors in 2017 and is well used to accommodating tourists heading to the city for the region’s famous food and to visit the surrounding hiking trails and ski resorts.

The city is no stranger to major international sporting events having hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics and three group matches at the 2002 soccer World Cup.

One item on the itinerary for many rugby fans is likely to be a visit to the Sapporo Beer Museum.

A red-brick building that was originally a sugar factory, the museum welcomes almost half a million visitors every year, according to Director General Tokufumi Sumiyoshi.

The museum can accommodate 1,600 people in its beer hall, where visitors can also tuck into ‘Jingisukan’, a dish of local lamb grilled with vegetables.

“We have a big beer garden and it is our expectation that tourists during the Rugby World Cup will come,” said Sumiyoshi, who expressed some concern that the nomihoudai, or ‘all you can drink’, option may cause some issues.

“We have heard that they can drink six or seven more times the amount of beer as Japanese people.”

Making sure the beer taps never run dry is a priority.

“We know the number of beers seem really ridiculous but please have enough on hand,” is the warning to local businesses delivered by Takanori Yamazaki from the Sapporo Sports Affairs Bureau.

“No beer issues is the name of the game here.”

One place looking forward to the influx of parched rugby fans is the Brian Brew Irish pub, which expects to be open for 48 hours straight over the weekend.

“We are talking about having a special operation for the World Cup, including opening early,” said landlord Ryusuke Hasegawa.

“We are preparing for them to enjoy until they get tired of drinking.

“(For the 2002 soccer World Cup), we opened the pub at 11 am and I started to pour beer at 11.30 ... the last customer I poured beer for was at four am so I kept pouring beer the whole day without any food.”

FILE PHOTO: A server serves Sapporo draft beer at Sapporo Bier Garten in Sapporo, northern Japan, February 19, 2007.REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The pub ran out of beer when Sapporo hosted matches involving England, Argentina and Germany at the 2002 soccer World Cup and Hasegawa is determined not to be caught short again.

“We sold the equivalent amount of one-month’s worth of sales in three days,” Hasegawa added. “That was soccer, rugby drinks more. Perhaps we make one-month of sales in a day.

“I think that is possible.”

Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Nick Mulvenney

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