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The biggest World Cup to date


With three games set to be hosted in Exeter this Autumn, Alexander Roberts, Sports Team, chatted to Alan Gilpin, Head of the Rugby World Cup, about his memories of university, expanding the sport, and his plans for Japan 2019:

2015 is set to be an auspicious year for rugby. Not only is there this year’s World Cup to look forward to, but with the rebranding of the international rugby board and continued development and growth of the sport across the globe, rugby is set to reach truly great heights in coming months. In light of this, an opportunity to sit down with Alan Gilpin, the Head of the Rugby World Cup and a man at the heart of these exciting changes was, to quote the tagline for the World Cup, too big to miss.

From the outset, Gilpin stuck me as a man with an unrivalled passion for rugby; and his interesting career path, from marketing to hospitality to director of a major sporting event, has certainly been an interesting one. Graduating from Exeter in 1994 with a degree in Law, he remembers his time at the University fondly. “I played a lot of sport here, rugby and basketball in particular,” he tells me, describing how university developed his passion for sport as well as the team building and goal focus he still uses in his career.

Alan Gilpin. Image Credits: sportsrecruitment.com
Alan Gilpin. Image Credits: sportsrecruitment.com

His advice for anyone interested in getting into a similar career is simple: “Be focused, know what part of the sports business you want to get into and know what your skill set is. Whether that’s law, marketing or economics there’s a place in the sports industry for different skills.” A specialist area of expertise is key, he tells me, but once you get into the business more opportunities develop. His own career started in specialist law before getting opportunities to move into ticketing and corporate work. “Find a way in,” he says, remembering his own success in the Olympics before moving into the Rugby World Cup, “and once you’re in, you’ll have an opportunity to spread your wings.” Gilpin is keen on making it clear that, while performance, training and sport science obviously makes up the majority of the sporting world, people with the “passion for [sport] and the right focus and skills” can have an important part to play.

The conversation then moved on to rugby and more specifically the World Cup, a topic which Gilpin unsurprisingly shows not only great passion for, but also focus and de-termination. On the subject of the recent name change of the International Rugby Board to World Rugby, he makes clear that it was to do with brand. “The rationale for the change is one of moving from an organisation that is seen with in the sport and externally as a regulator to an organisation that is seen as an inspirer.” He states “the emphasis is on growth and inspiration, and after 120 years acting as a law firm, it’s now time for it to act like a marketing firm.” Gilpin believes that this year’s World Cup will be a catalyst for major positive changes for the game, noting the success of the Women’s World Cup in Paris last year in inspiring more women to join the sport.

With regards to this year’s event Gilpin makes no bones about why it’s too big to miss. “It’s going to be the biggest event of the year” he says unequivocally, “certainly the biggest in Europe since London 2012.”

He also believes that the UK will respond well to the event, with a population not only already enamoured by rugby but that turns out in large numbers for major events. As the re-cord breaking ticket sales show, this is “on every level and every measure, the biggest World Cup to date.” He is also enthusiastic about how bringing the sport across the country to cities like Exeter will benefit the sport and the local population. “There are games being played from the North East to South West and it’s going to be reaching a lot of people,” he tells me, and those people are going to get behind the event. The University will be doing its bit, by playing host to Tonga, and Alan is confident that the facilities here will stand them in good stead. There can be no doubt that this World Cup is set to be a very big deal both for rugby in particular and sport in general.

However, Gilpin is also focused on the future of the World Cup, especially the next world cup in 2019 in Japan, which provide some unique opportunities for sport as well as some challenges. “For rugby as a sport and the World Cup as an event, it was time to break out of the mould of the traditional rugby strongholds and Japan was the number one candidate to be that first new territory.” The sport itself is not Japan’s most popular but he argues that “rugby is going through a good and solid growth period in Japan,” noting the success of the national team as well as their addition to the Super Rugby competition next year. The emphasis for Japan is, as he puts it, on growing the sport from the ground up, and the brand of the World Cup is already being used effectively in that regard.

The future of rugby is looking bright and with the drive and focus Alan showed during our interview it is not hard to see why. With a dedication and passion for the sport and the focus on how to continue making the great game bigger, the future of Rugby’s biggest event and the game as a whole looks set to take off to new heights under his stewardship.

Alexander Roberts, Sports Team

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