Rugby World Cup 2019 will mark game's coming-of age, Greg Growden writes

Japan players celebrate their victory over South Africa at Rugby World Cup 2015 Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

In exactly a year's time, World Rugby can say it has grown up. No longer is it a myopic organisation.

After decades of fastidiously looking after the old boys' network by ensuring only traditional rugby nations hosted the Rugby World Cup tournament, when Japan and Russia run out onto Tokyo Stadium on the evening of September 20, 2019 it will indicate the code is at last serious about embracing new territories, new boundaries, new cultures.

Finally World Rugby would have fulfilled one of its basic tasks- expanding the game, making it a proper global experience. Playing the ninth RWC in 12 different venues across Japan will give the tournament a much-needed extra dimension, showing that the game's leaders are serious in extending the game's footprint into the large and vastly untapped Asian market.

To get this far has been a hard slog, and required the International Rugby Board, now known as World Rugby, to throw away its blinkers, its old-world discrimination, its bias against the minor nations and stop being a self-serving political octopus only interested in looking after those who look after them.

What must never be forgotten is that Japan should have hosted a World Cup tournament seven years ago. They were the standout bidders for the 2011 World Cup but missed out to New Zealand due to generations-old prejudices and underhand politicking.

When it comes to deciding World Cup hosts, the IRB has habitually sided with the usual suspects.

First up, they had absolutely no interest in the World Cup concept, with almost all northern hemisphere officials treating the idea with complete disdain, convincing Australian and New Zealand officials- in particularly Sir Nicholas Shehadie and Dick Littlejohn- to virtually go it alone in 1987. Then realising it was an enormous money spinner, numerous anti World Cup officials suddenly jumped onto the gravy train and became its biggest supporters. From there, the Home Unions, South Africa and Australia were granted hosting rights for the following tournaments.

In 2005, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa were the three bidders for the 2011 hosting rights. Many of those involved in the bidding process stated that Japan was easily the most comprehensive and convincing. It was professional, well thought out. New Zealand and South Africa's bids were in contrast lazy and somewhat hazy. They relied on reputations. There were concerns about New Zealand's small stadia, signage and accommodation difficulties in a small nation, as well as disenchantment that New Zealand kept pushing the line that as they had such a strong rugby heritage, they simply deserved to be the hosts.

Nuts and bolts details about how they were actually going to run the tournament and how it would be a success were less than convincing.

Australia, to the disbelief of New Zealand, backed Japan's bid, arguing it was the right move for the future of the game. They comprehended the importance of spreading rugby throughout Asia. The Australian delegates also rated Japan as easily the most compelling bid.

In the end, New Zealand relied on their old mates- in particular South Africa- to get over the line. With it came accusations that New Zealand officials manipulated the bidding several ways, including promising tests against the All Blacks for votes.

In the first ballot, New Zealand received eight votes, Japan six and South Africa five. New Zealand were backed by Ireland (2 votes), Italy, Oceania, Scotland (2) and Wales (2). Japan had support from Asia, Australia (2), Canada and England (2). South Africa were backed by Africa, Argentina, Europe and France (2).

In the second ballot, South Africa, as it had been eliminated, were able to vote. It went 11-10 to New Zealand, receiving votes from Africa, Argentina, Ireland, Oceania, Scotland, South Africa (2) and Wales. Japan were supported by Asia, Australia, Canada, England, Europe, France and Italy.

Shortly after the announcement that New Zealand had won, a powerful IRB official hosted several rugby writers to lunch at the organisation's headquarters in Dublin. My most vivid memory of that function was that it was interrupted by a devastated Japanese official who wanted to say farewell to the IRB heavy.

He was in tears, explaining to the IRB official that he was deeply concerned what would happen to him when he returned to Japan, because this was a country with little interest in losers. He feared drastic reprisals.

This IRB official was at his patronising, condescending best, saying a few 'there, there, there's' before sending the Japanese delegate on his way to Dublin Airport. He returned to the table, muttering that Japan were never a chance of getting the hosting rights because numerous delegates had 'long memories.' He did not elaborate, but you just knew where he was coming from, especially as the IRB thrived on being an old boys' network, dominated by numerous elderly delegates with 'long memories'.

Several other dignitaries at that luncheon table smirked. I shook my head in disbelief.

As for the 2011 tournament in New Zealand, it degenerated into an infuriatingly jingoistic Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi affair, where everything seemed centred on ensuring the All Blacks at last broke their 24-year World Cup drought. The event lacked the sophistication, colour or rich texture of numerous previous World Cups, and was nowhere near as well organised as the two best tournaments that have been staged- 1995 in South Africa and 2003 in Australia.

Kiwi Kiwi Kiwi, Bleck Bleck Bleck 2011 was an ugly tournament- only enjoyed by one country, the sometimes unbearably arrogant hosts. Such was the rampant pro New Zealand badgering, numerous tourists were relieved to get home.

That won't be the case with Japan 2019. It will be a proper cultural experience, where so many supporters will delight in something new, something subtle, something always different going on. And it will be enhanced by Japan- unlike several of its predecessors- being efficient, humble hosts.

Next step is to take the World Cup to North or South America. A World Cup final in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Buenos Aires. Well why not? It wasn't that long ago Japan was laughed at.