A view from Guy Wieynk

Because of technology, the world really is in union

At first, it felt like cruel timing.

It’s 24 years since England last staged the Rugby World Cup – and this, of all weeks, is when I’m at Publicis’ global technology conference.

In San Francisco.

Yet both events are pervasively connected. Technology is not just changing the way sport is being is played, it is bringing its audience closer than ever.

Rugby has been one of the beneficiaries of that evolution. Cast your mind back to 1991. Following the tournament meant wrestling with the timer on the VHS, smuggling a crackling AM radio into work or making sure you were home in time for highlights. Being abroad meant being out of the game.

Today, even sitting here in the US, missing matches is the last of my worries. Instead, my real problem is which do I want to follow and in what level of detail?

The 2015 World Cup is the most technologically advanced in its history. It is being followed by more than four million people on numerous platforms in some of the furthest-flung corners of the world.

And that will invariably bring new people to the game and shape its future direction. Japan, for instance, may have just earned itself a new generation of fans.

For sport is about sharing a collective experience that in global tournaments such as this one can bind a nation. Digital doesn’t just enhance those bonds, it deepens them.

And in tournaments such as this, the relationship between technology and sport comes alive. For rugby geeks like me, 2015 offers a smorgasbord of digital treats that enrich the match experience.

Services such as the Official Rugby World Cup app offer more enhanced data visualisation than most will ever need. Stadium technology exists in abundance, from "Hawk-Eye" replays to augmented-reality Blippar apps offering ticket-holders virtual tours of Twickenham.

Brands, too, are rushing to fill any gaps left by broadcasters. Disagree with John Inverdale’s post-match verdict? Head to Heineken’s "online-only pundit panel" offering round-the-clock insight.

But I am most excited that the game I love is being opened to a wider audience, beyond that of the white middle-aged man. The opening ceremony showing a young William Webb Ellis running out of Rugby School to take the game to the wider world is symbolic of what may happen once again by the time this tournament ends.

So is it really terrible timing to be in San Francisco? Hardly. In fact, it has never been more exciting watching the game grow from afar. Thanks to technology, this is already happening. My real challenge is to make sure I can stay on top of it. The conference, that is. Tournament duty is taking care of itself.

Guy Wieynk is the UK group chief executive and vice-president, Western Europe, at Publicis UK