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Yokohama rugby chief eyes new stadium

According to the Tokyo Shoko Research, the Yokohama Rugby Football Association chief has indicated that the organisation will work towards building a new rugby stadium in the city to attract a professional rugby team.

Yokohama, the second city in the Kanto region after the nation’s capital Tokyo, saw its multi-purpose athletic stadium, Yokohama International Stadium, attracting 70,103 spectators for this year’s Rugby World Cup (RWC) Final between South Africa and England with the figure surpassing the previous venue record of 69,029 set at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final between Brazil and Germany.

Although England’s final pool match against France was cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis hitting eastern Japan, the stadium hosted seven matches including the semi-final between England and New Zealand and the aforementioned final.

Shoji Numata, the chairman of the Yokohama Rugby Football Association, believes the success of the RWC is only the beginning of creating a lasting legacy of the code in the city.

Numata said: “Actually, City of Yokohama did not bid to host RWC before the bid submission date expired. Maybe the city just did not fully understand the value of hosting RWC back then so we explained to them that it’s one of the three major international events alongside the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, and many fans with lots of money to spend will stay in Japan for a long period to contribute to the local economy. Even though we did not make it before the initial submission date, the city, instead of hosting the event alone, joined forces with Kanagawa Prefecture and nominated the Yokohama International Stadium as their joint bid venue.

“When we finally submitted our bid, however, the opening match and the final were both going to be played at Tokyo’s new National Stadium so we were planning for the two semi-finals only. Subsequently, the construction schedule of the National Stadium was delayed and it was decided that our Yokohama International Stadium would host seven matches including a semi-final and the final, with the Tokyo Stadium hosting eight matches including the opening match and bronze final.”

With the 2019 edition seen as one of the most successful RWC to date, Numata hopes the code will gain more popularity especially with the new professional league scheduled to kick off in 2021.

He said: “With the huge success of RWC, Yokohama is now perceived by many as a rugby city, and to keep this momentum going, we will work towards building a purpose-built rugby stadium and attract a professional rugby team to play home matches here.

The 15,046-capacity Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Football Stadium (pictured) currently holds a number of the Top League rugby matches there but it’s the home stadium of the J-League Division 1 (J1) side Yokohama Football Club so negotiating to make the venue regularly available for both codes is not easy. Numata said: “We will work with the city to build our own rugby stadium and make it home of a new professional rugby team.”

Image: WAKA77

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