Bid to host Rugby World Cup gets a boost after GAA offers stadiums
A BID by Ireland to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 has moved a step closer after the GAA voted to allow some of the country's biggest Gaelic grounds to be used.
Some 93pc of delegates at the association's annual congress agreed to allow stadiums in Dublin, Belfast, Thurles, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Castlebar to be part of a bid worth €250m to the economy.
The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) said it was delighted with the decision.
A feasibility study of hosting the tournament has been submitted to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and upgrading some grounds would be required for a successful bid, an IRFU spokesman said.
"We're very thankful that the GAA has voted to make stadiums available," said Karl Richardson.
"A feasibility study is being reviewed by the department, and this is a great stepping stone.
"The next World Cup, in England, is estimated to be worth more than €350m to the economy. We might expect lower than that, and an estimate at the moment is around €250m.
"There would have to be capital investment in relation to hospitality and media facilities, but it would not require all-seater stadiums.
"There aren't any soccer grounds being considered other than the Aviva, and 10 to 12 venues are needed which can provide good access for travel and a supporter base."
In 2011, 100,000 fans travelled to New Zealand for the competition, spending about $3,400 each (€2,187).
The GAA vote comes after a chequered history with the IRFU. GAA members were banned from playing 'foreign' games including rugby and soccer until 1971 when the controversial Rule 27 was abolished.
In 2005, the association changed its rules to allow rugby and soccer to be played at Croke Park while the old Lansdowne Road, now the Aviva Stadium, was being upgraded.
On Saturday, 350 delegates voted overwhelmingly to authorise the Central Council to allow the use of the 82,000-seater Croke Park and other grounds for games in the Rugby World Cup 2023 or 2027, if a bid is successful.
Other grounds covered by the vote include Semple Stadium in Thurles (53,500), the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick (50,000), Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork (43,500), McHale Park in Castlebar (38,000), Pearse Stadium in Galway (34,000) and Casement Park in Belfast (32,500).
The GAA said it had conducted preliminary meetings with the IRFU about a bid, but could not make any commitment without a vote from delegates.
Ireland faces stiff opposition from the US and Russia, among other nations, to stage the competition. It will be hosted by England in 2015 and Japan in 2019.
Sports Minister Leo Varadkar said the co-operation between the GAA and IRFU was welcome, and the support of the GAA was a "very important element" in any bid.
GAA Congress coverage: Sport