What’s this we hear about an Irish bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023? The IRFU can’t do it on its own because there aren’t enough rugby stadiums with the required capacity, but according to the BBC, the GAA Central Council has decided to put a proposal before its members permitting the use of their stadiums for the tournament.
Stadium capacity is the big challenge, but it seems there isn’t a minimum capacity laid down. The numbers are arrived at by negotiation between RWC and the host country, which is why New Zealand’s Eden Park, with its temporarily increased capacity of 60,000 was considered adequate to host the finals, even though Stadium Australia could hold 84,000 for the 2003 finals.
60,000 seems to be the minimum capacity for the finals, but everything else is negotiable.
New Zealand had twelve stadiums to stage the 2011 world cup, some of which had to be augmented with temporary seating to boost the numbers they could hold, and it worked well as a sporting event.
Ireland is different because we have so many other popular sports, but even in rugby alone, we’re off to a good start. The rebuilt Lansdowne Road holds 52,000. Thomond Park holds 26,500, but that’s about it. We can’t hold the Rugby World Cup in just two stadiums, and that’s where the GAA comes in.
As anyone who was present at the Ireland – England game in Croke Park will tell you, this is one serious stadium, equal to any venue in the world. It holds 82,000.
What about the rest?
Casement Park in Belfast holds about 33,000.
Semple Stadium in Thurles holds 55,000.
The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick can accommodate nearly 50,000.
Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney holds 43,000, the same as Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Pearse Stadium in Galway has a capacity of 34,000.
That’s nine, but is it sufficient? I don’t know. Maybe there are other stadiums big enough, and if there are, I’m sure somebody will tell me. What I do know is that force majeure will shortly oblige the GAA to engage with political and economic reality and make a historic choice. We live in an era where the entire population has been admonished by well-fed politicians to do their patriotic duty by accepting austerity and by swallowing the most unpalatable of medicine. Since there are few competitions more prestigious than the RWC, and given the GAA’s long-established trumpeting of its republican credentials, maybe this is the ultimate test of the GAA’s bona fides.
Is the organisation able to throw off its long-held aversion to what were once quaintly called foreign sports, and come together with the other sporting organisations in a venture that is certainly in the national interest? I think it probably can. Even as they agonised about opening up Croke Park, their backwoodsmen were shouting in the wilderness, and we all know these days that everyone supports every sport. The old Ban mentality is all but dead, apart from the real die-hards.
I was very proud, five years ago, as a non-GAA person, to attend Croke Park and welcome our English visitors in a spirit of mutual respect. It was a day when Ireland grew up a little more, and I genuinely believe that the GAA today is not the organisation it once was. If this proposal to host the RWC really has substance to it, I think they’ll step up and do their share.
Is the proposal realistic? I don’t know. It’s an expensive business. It requires significant government investment, but considering the sort of drains we’ve poured our money down in recent years, we could do a lot worse. Apart from improvements to the stadiums, it would need investment in infrastructure which is also no bad thing, and it would also attract huge numbers of overseas visitors, far more than those who had to take the long trek to New Zealand. Why do I say this? Because southern-hemisphere supporters had to travel enormous distances to get there from South Africa and Argentina, so a trip north for them is no huge difference, but on the other hand, European supporters would consider going to Ireland no more than a short hop.
I think this is a viable proposal. With a bit of unity among us, we might well be able to pull it off.
What do you think?