LONDON (Reuters) - The London Olympic Stadium and English soccer’s Wembley home were named on Monday as potential hosts of matches at the 2015 rugby union World Cup as tournament organisers plumped for stadium capacity over rugby heritage.
Twickenham, home to English rugby, and the Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital Cardiff also featured on the 17-strong list of grounds released by England Rugby 2015.
However, purists were disappointed that Gloucester’s Kingsholm in western England was the only English club rugby ground selected in a list including Manchester United’s Old Trafford and 11 other club soccer stadiums.
The plan to use soccer stadiums could complicate scheduling and advance ticket sales because fixtures for league soccer matches are finalised only in June of each year.
Leicester Tigers’ 24,000-seat Welford Road rugby ground missed out, although the city’s larger soccer stadium made the list, drawing an angry response from the Tigers.
“That the organisers of RWC2015 do not think this an appropriate venue for its fixtures is disappointing and confusing both for the professional club game in this country and for its supporters,” club chairman Peter Tom said in a statement.
The pitch at Welford Road was not big enough to meet World Cup specifications once television camera positions were factored in, England Rugby 2015 Chief Operating Officer Ross Young told reporters.
Young defended the choice of venues, saying they offered a good spread geographically and sufficient capacity.
“We’re talking about a world event and we’re talking about giving as many people as possible access to games,” Young said.
“I don’t think it’s an indictment at all on the club game in this country,” he added, noting that rugby clubs like Saracens had taken matches to Wembley to accommodate bigger crowds.
Organisers have set an ambitious target of selling 2.9 million tickets for the 48 World Cup matches in September and October 2015 as they try to generate 100 million pounds ($162 million) in profits.
The tournament and the inclusion of rugby sevens in the 2016 Olympics are seen as a golden opportunity to develop the sport further commercially.
Tournament organisers have been talking to officials from soccer’s Premier League and Football League about trying to overcome the problems of coordinating the World Cup and the domestic soccer calendar.
“While we are not in a position to make guarantees at this time we will continue to engage in constructive dialogue with England Rugby 2015 with a view to working towards achieving a satisfactory outcome for all parties,” the leagues said in a joint statement.
Young noted that France had used a number of soccer stadiums when it hosted the 2007 World Cup. A maximum of 12 venues to stage games in 2015 will be selected from the list next year.
Villa Park, Birmingham
Brighton Community Stadium, Brighton
Ashton Gate, Bristol
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Coventry Stadium, Coventry
Pride Park, Derby
Elland Road, Leeds
Leicester City Stadium, Leicester
Olympic Stadium, London
Twickenham Stadium, London
Wembley Stadium, London
Old Trafford, Manchester
Stadiummk, Milton Keynes
St James’ Park, Newcastle
St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Writing by Keith Weir, editing by Mark Meadows