Debbie Jevans is already getting a little tired of hearing that her job as chief executive of the 2015 Rugby World Cup must be a doddle compared with being director of sport for London 2012.
Jevans stepped into the role last October and in her first interview since then she tells me: “People keep coming up and saying, ‘Oh, it’s got to be easier. You had 26 sports to organise [for 2012] versus one sport now’.
“Actually it isn’t. The scale of the Olympics is absolutely unique. This is on a smaller scale but it is still the third biggest sports event after the Olympics and the World Cup. And the complexity is still the same: the road closures, the transport system, the venues, teams, hotels.
“I may only have a staff of 300 compared to 1,000 in 2012 but, in attention to detail and difficulty, 2015 will be the same as 2012.”
Jevans hopes that will not be the only similarity between the events. The Olympics and Paralympics captured Britain’s imagination and, with the Rugby World Cup also on these shores, her vision is for the tournament to have a lasting impact here.
“It will be a success if we’ve been inclusive and the players and the fans say, ‘That was amazing. I had a great time. The fan zones were great. The journey was great. The sport was great’. We need to make sure we have some unforgettable memories and celebrate the unique values of rugby.
“Just as 2012 was the catalyst to inspire a generation, 2015 is also the catalyst from which we want to bring more people into the game, to encourage more people to participate. I want to embrace the nation.
“If you think of 1966, you think football. If you think 2012 you think Olympic and Paralympic Games. I’d like to think that, when people think 2015, they will instantly think rugby.”
Having attended the last three World Cups — Jevans was in the Sydney crowd when Jonny Wilkinson kicked the points to secure the trophy in 2003 — she is sure this tournament will have a special atmosphere, echoing the days of London 2012.
“We’re a pretty patriotic bunch,” she says. “The country will absolutely be behind the team. I have no doubt we have the same aching desire to win that New Zealand showed during the 2011 World Cup. The number of times I’ve bitten my nails watching England play rugby. I don’t think I’ve felt more nervous than when Jonny Wilkinson scored that drop goal.”
She accepts the London Olympics raised the standard for judging the success of sports events. But, as I mention this, Jevans, who played a major part in last summer’s splendour, reflects how different the expectations were when London bid for the Games.
“Gosh, that whole build-up between 2003 and 2005 when we were bidding! We had lost the 2005 World Athletics Championships [after the Picketts Lock fiasco forced Britain to withdraw from staging the event]. When we bid for 2012, people were saying, ‘Are you serious?’
“They knew we did ceremonials — look at the Royal Wedding — but not sport. Now we’ve shown that we can deliver a world-class sports event and deliver brilliantly. I’m really proud to have been part of 2012 to help raise that bar, raise that expectation of excellence.”
The 53-year-old’s own sporting excellence may have been in tennis — she is a former Junior Wimbledon champion — but the rugby fan had no hesitation when she was head-hunted for the 2015 job.
“Rugby is a sport I’m passionate about and the opportunity to deliver the World Cup in a country I’m passionate about was something I just couldn’t turn down,” she says. “To deliver the Rugby World Cup is a challenge. But I’m really up for it.”
Such is her confidence, that Jevans is sure the mistakes made at London 2012 will not be repeated.
So, when I ask her whether the Rugby World Cup will avoid the Olympic ticketing fiasco, she says: “Yeah, we’re absolutely going to take on board lessons that we’ve learned.
“However, the problem was that there were so many more people who wanted to go to the Olympics — by definition there simply weren’t enough tickets.”
Despite this, 2012 did start with many empty seats. We were told this was due to the Olympic family, made up of members of the International Olympic Committee, international federations and national Olympic committees, failing to attend events. You would not expect Jevans to criticise this unique family but she quickly asserts that: “The rugby family is fantastic but very different to the Olympic family.”
Jevans is keen to offer cheer to the vast majority of fans who cannot afford highly priced tickets.
All sporting event organisers make such noises only for the public to discover that most of the tickets are only available to sponsors or as part of hospitality packages beyond their reach.
“Jevans acknowledges that the corporate hospitality sales are not controlled by her but by Rugby Travel and Hospitality, the commercial partner of the International Rugby Board. However, she does strike a sincere tone when she pledges: “I want to ensure that the entry prices are accessible. Our big commitment is to have tickets at £7 and £15.”
The real test will come when we know how many of the two and a half million tickets will be at these prices. And, with the opening match of the tournament not until September 18, 2015, Jevans understandably cannot give any numbers.
This need to generate money — organisers have guaranteed the International Rugby Board an £80million profit — has also dictated the choice of venues which has come in for some criticism. Seven of the 13 tournament stadia are club football grounds but only two are homes to Premiership rugby union teams.
Jevans admits: “We have a lot of tickets to sell. The IRB demand certain facilities, lay down very strict criteria and football clubs are currently those that offer them. Hence, we’ve used some of them. But, as at the Olympics where we had athletes at heart, we’ve got rugby teams at heart, so that was the main reason for this choice.”
For Jevans, echoing what Lord Coe said of his 2012 role, this is crucial for her aim to “set the stage for the teams to perform”. But she is well aware that, as at the Olympics, success at 2015 will depend on how well Stuart Lancaster’s England side perform.
“At 2012, Dave Brailsford [performance director] was responsible for making sure the cyclists did well, as was Dave Tanner [rowing performance director]. In the same way, Stuart is absolutely focusing on making sure the England team go out there in the best possible shape.”
It’s a different ball game to 1991 . . .
– The Rugby World Cup made a profit of £4.1m when it was last held in England in 1991 but organisers are hoping to make £80m this time.
– Twenty nations will compete in 2015, as opposed to 16 back then. One million people attended the 32 matches but in excess of 2m spectators are expected to turn out for the 48 games.
– 75,000 watched England lose to Australia in the final at Twickenham but, following multiple ugrades, 82,000 will pack in for the showpiece event in two years.
– 13 venues will host matches in 2015 but 19 were used across the hosting nations in 1991.