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By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is not ready to host a rugby World Cup and needs to establish a sustainable professional league to help develop the sport there, International Rugby Board (IRB) head Brett Gosper said on Monday.
The sport's global showpiece has only ever been held in traditional rugby strongholds since the inaugural tournament 26 years ago, with England set to host its eighth incarnation in 2015.
The IRB, however, has awarded hosting rights for the 2019 tournament to Japan, moving away from the southern hemisphere nations of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia and the European powers in the Six Nations for the first time.
"There is no question that anything that would drive interest in the (United) States would be fabulous," the Australian told reporters in Wellington.
"It would drive very high commercial revenues through broadcast (agreements), but I don't think they would be ready for a World Cup yet.
"The sooner they are, it would be exciting for a number of reasons. Not only because of the amount of money it would earn for the game but because it's great to see it in a different context and that's what the World Cup is for.
"There is a lot of promise there but a rugby World Cup soon in America? Not quite, but it would be good if it was sooner rather than later."
Gosper added that by awarding the 2019 tournament to Asia, it was likely the subsequent event would return to a traditional rugby market before the IRB looked to expand into newer areas.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew, whose organisation have a strategic alliance with USA Rugby, added the U.S. could possibly host a Rugby World Cup Sevens before moving on to a full tournament, something Gosper said was possible.
This year's World Cup Sevens is being held in the Russian capital Moscow in June, though the future of the tournament is in doubt due to the sport's inclusion in the 2016 Olympics.
The IRB had been involved in discussions with USA Rugby about the financial and feasibility of establishing a professional league in the country, Gosper said.
"What is good is that there are forces in the U.S. at the moment that realise a local major professional North American league would be an interesting dimension," he added.
"There is a belief that it would do more to spur the growth in the country than making a World Cup quarter-final.
Southern hemisphere rugby's governing body SANZAR has said that possible expansion into North America or Asia after their current broadcasting contract expired in 2015 was a possibility.
"I wouldn't say that we are particularly advanced down that track but inevitably you will see a professional rugby competition on the west coast of the States including SANZAR countries," Tew said.
"Just as we will at some point see it in places like Hong Kong and Japan and other parts of Asia.
"Whether it's another iteration of SANZAR is a point in debate but one day we will get there."
(Editing by John O'Brien)