Monday 16 July 2018

How the Taoiseach plans to use Brexit in final bid to salvage Rugby World Cup dream

Bundee Aki celebrates with his daughter Adrianna (6) after Ireland’s victory over South Africa at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki celebrates with his daughter Adrianna (6) after Ireland’s victory over South Africa at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has enlisted the support of a network of Ireland's ambassadors as part of the Government's last-ditch effort to land the 2023 Rugby World Cup, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The Government has ramped up its diplomatic efforts ahead of Wednesday's announcement and is using the issue of Brexit to make Ireland's case for votes.

But highly placed sources have admitted the IRFU is facing an "uphill battle" to secure the tournament, particularly because of the technical assessment that placed South Africa as the clear favourite.

Sports Minister Shane Ross and Junior Minister Brendan Griffin are due to travel to the UK this week as part of Ireland's lobbying efforts.

But the majority of the lobbying has been overseen by Mr Varadkar and his officials, according to well-placed sources.

Behind-the-scenes conversations have taken place with both British Prime Minister Theresa May and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Government sources saying they are confident of securing their support.

The support of the Welsh government is also viewed as being critical. However, it's understood that Mr Varadkar has not personally spoken to Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones due to the political difficulties facing his party.

A team of ambassadors and other Government contacts have been enlisted to convince the relevant parties that landing the tournament in the EU is particularly important in light of Brexit.

The criteria used as part of the technical assessment has been strongly criticised by those leading the diplomatic efforts.

The third strand of Ireland's strategy is to emphasise that if the technical assessment stands, only the larger countries with massive stadiums will ever get to host the cup.

There is a view within Government, however, that the World Cup authority is leaning heavily towards South Africa for reasons outside of Ireland's control.

A senior source pointed out that South Africa has lost out on the tournament on the last three occasions and there hasn't been a rugby world cup in the southern hemisphere for 12 years.

The source said rugby is in decline in South Africa and it has also promised to spend the most money of all the bidders.

Irish Independent

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