SINGAPORE - Singapore is in discussions on staging a British and Irish Lions tour match, international tests and a leg of the rugby sevens series at its new US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) Sports Hub as part of efforts to become a 'home away from home' for the sport's biggest names.
International Rugby Board officials gathered in the wealthy Southeast Asian city-state this week for their annual meeting, with IRB President Bernard Lapasset leading the praise of Singapore's new 55,000 National Stadium.
The facility, which can host cricket, rugby, football and athletics events, is the centrepiece of a project which Singapore hopes can transform it into a sporting capital.
The Brazilian football team will play Japan in a glamour friendly here on Tuesday, while the top eight women's tennis players will compete in Singapore at the WTA Finals for the first time later this month.
Rugby also wants a piece of the pie. "Our role now is to open the door for Asia, with more expansion for rugby," Lapasset told a small group of reporters this week.
"Singapore is a fantastic city and they already have a lot of big events and rugby should be a part of that. "Whether it's the Sevens World Series, Olympic qualifiers or World Cup warm-up games, there are many opportunities in the coming years for Singapore to be a major player in the rugby world."
Singapore and Japan will find out next month who has been selected to become the 18th team to join Super Rugby, with the IRB "very excited" that two Asian bids are being considered by the competition's governing body, SANZAR.
Japan appears to be ahead in the race after making a concession to host some matches in Singapore should they win the bid..
But that willingness to share does not extend to the 2019 rugby World Cup, IRB CEO Brett Gosper said, dampening speculation that Singapore or Hong Kong could host games when Japan stages rugby's biggest tournament. "It would have been nice on a number of levels but it's been brought back into being an all-Japan operation ... but I would say its a terrific destination for warm-up matches ahead of 2019," the Australian said.
Singapore will showcase itself as a destination next month when it hosts a fixture between the Asia Pacific Dragons and the New Zealand Maori.
The Dragons are an invitational side, made up mainly of Pacific Islander players, which Singapore is proposing for the 18th Super Rugby berth.
Singapore also hosted an international rugby 10s tournament in June, the first event at the National Stadium, but it wants to play a bigger role in world rugby.
It is in the hunt to host the 2018 World Cup rugby sevens tournament, while discussions were held this week on the possibility of hosting one of three new stops proposed on the sevens series, as well as a Lions fixture.
The Lions played the opening match of their 2013 tour of Australia in Hong Kong, the Asian home of main sponsors HSBC and also the headquarters of the Asian Rugby Football Union.
The Lions next tour is not until 2017 in New Zealand.
John Spencer, tour manager for the New Zealand trip, was in Singapore along with 60 other delegates for the IRB meetings.
The Straits Times reported that the possibility of hosting a one-off Lions fixture in Singapore ahead of the 2017 tour was discussed.
The ever-increasing size and costs of a Lions tour means they need to be able to generate funds wherever they go, therefore wealthy Singapore is a plausible option.
South Africa and other nations have also looked at playing lucrative matches in the city-state.
South African Rugby Union President Oregan Hoskins pointed to the All Blacks test in Chicago against the United States next month, and a previous Bledisloe Cup encounter between New Zealand and Australia in Hong Kong, as rugby's acceptance that it needs to go to different markets to generate money.
"New Zealand, Australia and South Africa might be seen as the three strong playing brands but we are certainly not the wealthiest," the IRB vice chairman said. "Teams are willing to play wherever the sponsors put money up. Its a global game, a professional game and gone are the days that you are confined to your own back yard, you go where your sponsors take you."