Monday 23 October 2017

We must seize our chance to show we can host sport's biggest events

The tournament is being seen in some quarters as a dry run for the 2023 men’s World Cup, and is expected to cost just over €4m to stage
The tournament is being seen in some quarters as a dry run for the 2023 men’s World Cup, and is expected to cost just over €4m to stage

Lisa Bergin

Come Wednesday, the eyes of the international sporting world will be fixed on Ireland as the Women's Rugby World Cup kicks off in Belfield in front of a sell-out crowd. Teams and fans from countries throughout the rugby world will be descending on Dublin's fair city for the group stages of the tournament, before relocating to Belfast for the concluding phases.

The tournament is being seen in some quarters as a dry run for the 2023 men's World Cup, and is expected to cost just over €4m to stage. The IRFU is footing €1.5m of that bill, with supplementary funding coming from World Rugby, the Irish Government and council funding, sponsorship and ticket revenues. It falls at a critical time for the IRFU and all involved in Ireland's bid to host the 2023 tournament ahead of November's formal announcement.

Ireland is a small country, but repeatedly punches above its weight when it comes to hosting international events. Winning the right to host WRWC 2017 two years ago was a major coup for us as a nation from a sporting and economic point of view. It isn't the first time we have welcomed the world of sport with open arms, and our reputation as hosts is remarkably strong.

In recent years Ireland has become more alive to the benefits of hosting international sporting events, following models pursued successfully in other countries like Denmark. Small, niche events are of particular interest and we are starting to build an impressive track record, but obviously the major events have huge appeal.

The international rugby world first came to town for the World Cup in 1991. Ireland jointly hosted two pool games, a quarter-final and a semi-final, and we all remember Ireland's incredible quarter-final clash against Australia.

We also played host to two stages of the Tour de France in 1998. Multiple bandwagon jumpers lined the 386km of road covered as cycling's biggest names came to town. New bikes were on the Christmas lists of kids across the country that year.

The Special Olympics in 2003 will forever remain in the hearts of Irish people thanks to the legacy of the games. Ireland had dipped its toe in hosting stages or one-off major international events at that point, but this was the biggest sporting or cultural event to ever take place in Ireland. It was the largest event to be held in the world that year, and the first time a Special Olympics World Games had been staged outside the USA.

For two weeks, the nation was captivated by the bravery, skill and ability of athletes who travelled from 168 countries, while 177 cities, towns and villages participated in the Host Town Programme by welcoming and hosting athletes in the lead-up to the games.

The Ryder Cup in 2006 saw Ireland once again at the epicentre of international sport, with one of the largest events in world golf descending on the K Club. It was a huge sporting success, as sponsors and corporates tripped over themselves to spend money.

The Europa League final in 2011 helped to launch the newly built Aviva Stadium. It was Ireland's first European football club competition final, and the successful execution of the game was no doubt instrumental in Dublin being selected as one of the 13 cities that will host Euro 2020.

The most recent major international sporting competition to grace Ireland's shores was the Solheim Cup, held in Killeen Castle in September 2011. Dubbed the female Ryder Cup, the event showcased Ireland's top-quality golf courses to audiences worldwide.

And so, the opportunity presents itself once again for Ireland to show its best to the world of sport with the WRWC. We may not host an Olympics on our own, as Shane Ross recently claimed and Gay Mitchell before him, even if we did host an equivalent in the Tailteann Games of 1924, '28 and '32, but our track record is strong.

A successful tournament would mean our best foot is put forward in the staging of an international event in conjunction with World Rugby, which will draw thousands of international supporters and millions of television viewers worldwide over the next few weeks. This really is our moment to shine. There is a lot at stake.

Tickets for the pool games sold out months in advance, and the semi-finals and finals tickets are expected to sell out once the pool stages are decided.

The boost to Irish rugby should be significant; the boost to female sports even more so.

The opportunity is firmly within our hands; it is up to us as a nation what we do with it.

Lisa Bergin is an associate director with Teneo PSG

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