Wednesday 21 August 2019

Rugby World Cup bid exposes faults

Ireland 2023 bid ambassador Brian O’Driscoll, IRFU President Philip Orr and IRFU chief executive Philip Browne react to the host union announcement. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland 2023 bid ambassador Brian O’Driscoll, IRFU President Philip Orr and IRFU chief executive Philip Browne react to the host union announcement. Photo: Sportsfile


The dismal failure of Ireland's attempt to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 reflects poorly on the Government, which underwrote and actively supported the bid, and other agencies and organisations in the State which spared no effort in hyping the application of Ireland, North and South, building public expectation in the process only to leave all concerned bitterly disappointed.

The failed bid should act as a wake-up call to the Government, the wider body politic and public bodies that several deficiencies of concern clearly exist within the infrastructure of the State. This time Ireland failed to land what would have been a tremendous boon - the Rugby World Cup. Next time, further critical projects with an even broader requirement could be lost because the State continues to lag behind international competitors, a divide which clearly cannot be made up for in charm and by donning the green jersey, or in this case a blazer and green necktie.

The hosting of a Rugby World Cup by Ireland had the potential to be very beneficial in terms of visitor numbers and sporting and international profile and for communities across the island. A successful bid for the Rugby World Cup would have had the dual advantage of promoting sport and tourism. There would be very considerable tourism potential as the tournament would have taken place during Ireland's shoulder season for overseas tourism, between mid-September and late October. It is estimated that the tournament would have drawn approximately 450,000 high-spending visitors. There would have been many other benefits to the country, not least the profile received through television coverage of the tournament across the world and the exposure that the country would get through the thousands of visiting media.

The governments in the North and South viewed hosting the Rugby World Cup as a unique opportunity for Ireland and have been supporting this project since 2013, when the initial feasibility study was received. This study was the subject of "in-depth" examination by the cross-border Rugby World Cup Working Group during 2014. Its report was agreed by the Government, and in December 2014 it was agreed that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should support the preparation of an all-island bid by the IRFU, in co-operation with the Northern Ireland authorities. The bid also had the full co-operation of the GAA, which put key stadiums, such as Croke Park, at the disposal of the bid. An oversight board, chaired by former Tanaiste Dick Spring and comprising key sporting and business figures and government representatives, guided the compilation of the bid. This was supported by interdepartmental groups in both jurisdictions, chaired respectively by the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport led the co-ordination of the public sector input and managed relations with the IRFU and the Department of the Economy in Northern Ireland. The Government regularly reviewed the project at Cabinet and approved the submission of the applicant and candidate phase bids.

Yet the bid came up woefully short. Cited failures included stadiums that were not yet complete, antiquated terracing in other grounds and fears over inadequate technology that did not measure up against France and South Africa. While the enthusiasm of all those involved with the Ireland bid cannot be faulted, the application surely represents a triumph of hype over reality, and must be viewed as a salutary lesson in how not to proceed in the absence of critical infrastructure demands.

Sunday Independent

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