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Strict Rugby World Cup rules leave Japanese training ground hosts frustrated

A banner for the Japan Rugby World Cup 2019 is seen near JR Shin-Urayasu Station, in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, on April 26, 2019. (Mainichi/Tamiko Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- Municipal authorities hosting national rugby teams for the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup are concerned residents won't get to see players train or meet them at local events under a rule by the tournament's organizers that limits announcements of specific training locations and schedules due to concerns including security.

A representative of the official Ireland team training camp in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, reflected the mood. "Even if you tell everyone afterwards that this is where the training camp was, I don't think it's going to help rugby become more popular. If residents don't get that feeling that the athletes came here, it won't leave a legacy."

Ichihara's local government has been fostering a welcoming spirit for the tournament with its "Rugby Town" slogan. In summer 2018, it sent a request to the Rugby World Cup 2019 Organising Committee for permission to hold an event with the Irish team at the training ground, but have yet to receive a positive response.

National teams will be based at official training camps run by municipal authorities during the tournament's dates from Sept. 20 to Nov. 2. The committee says 61 local authorities have been selected, with teams set to change their training camp with each match. During qualifying rounds in the England 2015 Rugby World Cup, teams spent nearly 10 days at each ground on average.

On the decision not to announce training locations, the World Cup Organising Committee explained, "In accordance with (the sport's world governing body) World Rugby's policies, we're putting team safety and security first." They are also taking into account some teams' wishes to keep game tactics secret.

But, when recruitment for training ground hosts opened in 2016, the confidentiality policy was not mentioned. The first time candidates were told was January 2017, a month after the application deadline.

National teams are free to allow the announcement of training location and dates, but host local governments are not permitted to directly contact them. Instead, all correspondence goes through the World Cup Organising Committee. The municipal government of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, west of Tokyo, where the Japan national team will train, sent a request through the committee last summer for permission to hold an event between the city and team. One representative said, "The committee told us they wanted them to respond in fiscal 2018, but all they've had back so far is they're still considering the request." The city of Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, will host three teams including powerhouse New Zealand. "It would be much easier if we could negotiate directly," a city official connected to negotiations said.

However, unlike the official training camps, which are run with the World Cup organizing committee, municipalities that are free to directly invite teams to pre-game training camps. With a team's agreement, training information could be revealed to the public. Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, where the New Zealand team will prepare, has already announced where they will be training and staying on its website.

The Rugby World Cup 2019 Organising Committee says, "We understand the feeling among host authorities. We'd like to negotiate with the teams so that they can cooperate with local bodies as much as possible (in disclosing related information on their training)."

The route taken by the Rugby World Cup differs from other major sporting events. The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games said that for the Olympic and Paralympic games, there will be no ruling from the top on announcing pre-competition training information, "Rather than being controlled by the organizing committee or the International Olympic Committee (IOC), we're leaving that up to the local hosts and the athletes' national organizers to negotiate."

Some municipal governments have already publicized training locations that will be used for the games, including Urayasu, where the Slovakian Olympic Team will set up at a local university's facilities. "We could negotiate directly with them, so the process was simple," said a representative, adding that there are now also hopes for a local event.

At the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea, select training sessions were publicized, and some players did signings for fans during breaks between training. "FIFA wanted us to ensure residents were allowed to see the teams' train before the tournament began," said a member of the Japan Football Association.

(Japanese original by Buntaro Saito, City News Department)

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