Wales is "ready to solve England’s Rugby World Cup ticketing headache" by staging more matches at the 84,500-seat Millennium Stadium, according to Rumsby & Clutton of the London TELEGRAPH. With the World Cup taking place across September and October, London's Wembley "would find it extremely difficult to accommodate more matches," particularly in the knockout phase because it is contracted to host NFL games at that time. Man City is "close to agreeing a deal to take only one of three games" that rivals ManU was pencilled in to stage, leaving World Cup organizers "to find a suitable home for another two." They could "turn to Newcastle and Leeds to retain the number of matches they had planned to bring to the North," although that could lead to scheduling issues because of the football season. St. James’ Park and Elland Road "are also not big enough to offset the ticket revenue lost by Old Trafford’s withdrawal" (TELEGRAPH, 4/5).
Events and Attractions
The British Horseracing Authority has defended the Grand National, saying that "its overall safety record has improved," according to Joe Wilson of the BBC. Two fatalities in '11 prompted a major review into safety, "with two more horse deaths in 2012 resulting in changes to the Aintree course for Saturday's race." BHA Dir of Raceday Operations Jamie Stier said, "The fatalities of last year do not mean the changes made were inappropriate. People need to give an opportunity for the changes to bed in." The changes made to the Aintree course include "shortening the distance of the race from four-and-a-half miles to four miles and three-and-a-half furlongs and changing the core material used to build the fences from wood to a more forgiving plastic material" (BBC, 4/4).
FIRM DEFENSE: In London, Alan Lee wrote trainer Jonjo O'Neill, "who suffered heartbreak on two counts" in the John Smith's Grand National last year," offered a "fervent defence of the imperilled race" on Wednesday. The death at Aintree of Synchronised, one month after O'Neill had produced him to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, "intensified criticism of the National and led to calls by some animal rights groups for it to be banned on grounds of cruelty." O'Neill: "People saying the National should be stopped just don't understand. We are all in racing because we love the horses, but we take things to heart. Some of the things said about us are a bloody insult, as if we are animals ourselves. There are people out there stabbing and shooting, killing randomly, and sometimes it seems we are being put in the same bracket" (LONDON TIMES, 4/4). Also in London, Tony Paley wrote Battlefront, ridden by Katie Walsh, "who hopes to become the first woman to win the Grand National on Saturday, collapsed and died on Thursday in the first race at Aintree over the Grand National fences at this year's meeting." Walsh, who finished third on Seabass in last year's Grand National and will ride the same horse in this year's running of the big race, "pulled up Battlefront at the 11th fence in the John Smith's Fox Hunters' Chase for amateur riders." The horse "collapsed and died soon afterwards." Initial reports are that the horse "may have suffered a heart attack" (GUARDIAN, 4/4).
England’s leading rugby clubs "are set to consider a number of radical alternatives to the Heineken Cup at a board meeting next month that could shape the future of the European game," according to Gavin Mairs of the London TELEGRAPH. Up for discussion "are a world club championship, a fourth England Test match every autumn and an expanded Premiership." An enhanced and expanded Anglo-Welsh competition, including a new sevens tournament, "is also expected to come under consideration as an alternative to the nine European weekends in the current season." Premiership Rugby "is to put the proposals to club owners and shareholders amid increasing frustration at the lack of progress on negotiations with its fellow European Rugby Cup stakeholders over the future structure of the current European competitions." The English clubs, along with their French counterparts, "are demanding reform of the Heineken Cup, including a reduction of the number of clubs from 24 to 20, a strengthening of the Amlin Challenge Cup and the introduction of a third-tier competition." While it would still prefer to strike a deal with its ERC stakeholders and make new European competitions work, Premiership Rugby "is not prepared to accept the status quo, which guarantees all four Italian and Scottish Pro12 clubs places in the Heineken Cup." After four stakeholder meetings, there "is still no sign of any agreement being reached." With no further meetings planned -- and it is understood the issue was not raised at the regular ERC board meeting last week ahead of this weekend’s quarterfinals -- "there is a growing sense of urgency in the English game to consider real alternatives" for the '14-15 season when, in the absence of agreement, the Heineken Cup "will cease to exist." The potential for increased revenues as part of the Premiership’s BT Vision deal for European games "could also tempt the Welsh regions to consider a new European competition if the dispute over the Heineken Cup is not resolved" (TELEGRAPH, 4/4).
The Int'l University Sports Federation (FISU) "has unveiled the candidate cities for the 2019 Summer and Winter Universiades, with three capital cities all in contention to host the 30th Summer World University Games in six years time," according to James Crook of INSIDE THE GAMES. Brazilian capital Brasilia, Azerbaijani capital Baku and Hungarian capital Budapest "are the three cities battling to stage the Summer Games" in '19. The Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk in Russia and Valais in Switzerland "will go head-to-head for hosting rights for the Winter Games in the same year." After securing the rights to host the FIFA World Cup next summer and the first Olympic and Paralympics Games on South American soil in '16, Brazil "is currently revelling in its status as an emerging nation and winning the hosting rights for the 2019 Summer Universiade would be another coup for the nation." Baku "is very much an emerging sporting city that has made no secret of its grand ambitions; notably including failed bids for the 2016 and 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games." Baku is also set to host the inaugural European Games in '15, and a Summer Universiade "would certainly be a welcome addition to its growing portfolio." Budapest has hosted the games on two occasions; under their previous guise as the Int'l University Games in '35 and the Universiade in '65 (INSIDE THE GAMES, 4/3).