France will host the 2023 Rugby World Cup after beating rival bids from South Africa and Ireland.
South Africa had been expected to win the vote after an independent review recommended they stage the tournament.
However, at a World Rugby Council meeting in London on Wednesday, France was chosen to hold the 10th event.
France – the main host of the competition in 2007 – won in the second round of voting, with 24 votes compared to 15 for South Africa.
Ireland, which staged matches in 1991 and 1999, was eliminated after getting eight of the 39 votes in the first round – France picked up 18 and South Africa 13.
South Africa hosted the World Cup in 1995, when the Springboks beat New Zealand 15-12 in the final.
England backed the Irish bid but Wales supported South Africa and Scotland went with France. The head of the Irish Rugby Union Philip Browne said he was “very disappointed” with that.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont described the selection process as the “most transparent and comprehensive” in the organisation’s history.
“I am delighted for France. They have run a World Cup before and I think it will be an exciting World Cup,” he said
“We feel for the first time that within World Rugby we have put the results of our evaluation out to the general public.”
Last month, South Africa had ranked highest in the independent review after the three bids were judged on five categories…
- vision and hosting concept
- tournament organisation and schedule
- venues and host cities
- tournament infrastructure
- finance, commercial and commitments
From the above criteria, South Africa scored 78.97%, France was second with 75.88% and Ireland was third with 72.25% – but members of the World Rugby Council voted to select France.
Bernard Laporte, president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), had criticised the original report, saying it contained a “certain amount of incompetence” and was “laughable”.
“We are not rated as well over doping because they tell us we are too strict,” Laporte told AFP in an interview last week.
“On security, we have the same number of points even though there are 52 murders a day in South Africa – it’s crazy.”
After the decision to award France the 2023 World Cup, Laporte said: “This World Cup is for all of French rugby. The economic impact will be for them. With the reforms that we have committed, we needed this World Cup.”
France President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “We will again host the Rugby World Cup in 2023. Wonderful news for rugby, for sport and for France.”
South Africa said they were “bitterly disappointed” at the decision, but would not appeal against the verdict.
“We would like to apologise to the people and government of South Africa for raising their hopes,” added Mark Alexander, president of South Africa Rugby.
“We did everything in our power to bring the tournament to South Africa and we expected to have that right confirmed.
“We produced a compelling bid document that earned the unanimous recommendation of the Rugby World Cup Ltd board. That recommendation was questioned last week by rivals, but endorsed a second time by World Rugby last week.
“However, the view of the experts and World Rugby’s leadership was overturned by World Rugby Council members, who may have had other factors to take into account.
“We cannot hide our desolation but, for the sake of rugby we wish the 2023 tournament hosts every success.”
Jurie Roux, chief executive of South Africa Rugby, said: “World Rugby ran an exhaustive, transparent process for 15 months to identify the best host nation, only for the process to go entirely opaque for the past two weeks.
“The view of the experts and World Rugby’s leadership was overturned by World Rugby Council members.”
Chester Williams, who helped South Africa win the World Cup when they hosted the event in 1995, told BBC World Service the decision was “disappointing and sad”.
He added: “It is a much needed event that we wanted here in South Africa and this could have been another opportunity for us as South Africa to reunite as a nation.
“It would have been an amazing opportunity to host the Rugby World Cup and the French have won it and we have to deal with it accordingly.
“We were about 90% certain that we would be hosting the World Cup. The whole of South Africa is going to be disappointed.
“We thought the biggest opposition would be the Irish.”
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland could bid again to host the tournament in the future.
“I am of course deeply disappointed by this result but I wish France the very best in their preparations for Rugby World Cup 2023. World Rugby had a choice of three excellent contenders,” he said.
“As someone who has been involved in the bid from the beginning, I had hoped Ireland would be selected. But we were beaten by another excellent candidate and I know that France will host a superb tournament in 2023.
“I have no regrets about bidding for the tournament and I want to thank everyone who was involved in it.
“We should never forget that the technical report found that Ireland would be excellent hosts for Rugby World Cup 2023, and there may be other occasions for Ireland to show the world what we are capable of.”
Japan will host the next World Cup in 2019.