independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Lise Hand: Out with the troika, in with the tries if Leo gets plan between the posts

Transport, Tourism and Sport Minister Leo Varadkar at the Ballsbridge Hotel yesterday for the International Rugby Board conference. Mark Condren

Will the skyline be dotted with cranes? Would Bertie finally get his Bowl?

THERE were a lot of sick parrots leaving the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night. But the grisly post-mortem by bereft alickadoos as to how the rugby lads had been hammered by the Aussies was interrupted by some unexpected good news from Leo Varadkar.

For it transpires that the Government is likely to put together a bid for Ireland to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 – and not in conjunction with any of our British neighbours, but our very own bid to host the whole shebang.

This is quite an ambitious undertaking if the project gets the thumbs-up from the Cabinet today, but a report by Deloitte consultants which was co-commissioned by the Government and the IRFU found that we could actually launch a "realistic" bid.

And if we landed the tournament, it could throw considerable amounts of doubloons into what may still be depleted coffers by the time 2023 rolls around – it has the potential to bring 337,000 international rugby fans to Ireland over a number of weeks, who could spend up to €800m in Irish hotels and hostelries and the like.

So it was no wonder that Leo Varadkar, the Minister for the Holy Trinity of Departments Needed to Land the Bid – Transport, Sport and Tourism – was looking decidedly chipper as he arrived in the Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin to take part in the International Rugby Board (IRB) Conference and Exhibition.

It was hardly serendipitous that the Deloitte document was splashed across the media on the very day that the conference was taking place, featuring several hundred key decision-makers from the world of rugby hailing from 120 countries.

On his way into the discussion panel titled 'Winning Bids and Delivering Outstanding Rugby Events', Leo said he was certain that winning the bid would be a boost to the economy and to the country.

"It would actually be economically successful for Ireland – hundreds of thousands of visitors would come here for it," he said.

"But it's not just about money, it's really about national pride and giving the people of Ireland something to rally behind."

He pointed out that New Zealand has a smaller population than the island of Ireland – "and we've better infrastructure so if they can do it, we can do it too".

Ah yes, infrastructure. If our bid in 2015 is successful, will the Irish skyline then be dotted with cranes as new stadiums rose? Would Bertie finally get his Bowl?

Leo was adamant that there is no need for such extravagance. For this would be a joint bid by the Government of the Republic, the Northern Ireland Executive, the IRFU and the GAA, which means the likes of Ravenhill in Belfast, Parc Ui Chaoimh and Semple Stadium can be pressed into service.

He revealed that when he first floated the idea while on a radio show two years ago, various GAA bodies were immediately on the phone to offer their stadiums. Of course, some of these more venerable venues would then require an extensive upgrade, courtesy of the Government – "but we wouldn't have to build any stadiums from scratch", he insisted.

Leo listened with interest to what some of his fellow panellists had to say – among them were Debbie Jevans, chief executive of England Rugby 2015, which hosts the next tournament.

One piece of advice was that the bidding country had to put forward a strong case which wasn't just about economics, and it was clear that Leo was already formulating a plan.

"We're too small to host the Olympics or the FIFA World Cup, so this is the biggest event that could happen in our country, and for that reason it would engender enormous national pride," he told the audience.

"The IRFU wasn't partitioned when the country split, and rugby has always been supported by both Catholics and Protestants, and during the Troubles it was a unifying force. For us it would be a symbol of how far we've come from the bad times to better times now."

Leo's fired up and ready to go, green jersey already over his head. It would be a surprise if the Cabinet give his idea the boot later today.

Irish Independent

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