Leo Varadkar dismisses fears Brexit fall-out could cost Ireland €1.5bn Rugby World Cup
LEO Varadkar has brushed off any concerns that the Brexit fall-out could damage Ireland's bid to host a 2023 Rugby World Cup that the IRFU claim could give the country a €1.5bn economic boost.
The Taoiseach joined a strong delegation in London as their rivals, South Africa and France, stepped up their candidacies by submitting their final presentations ahead of next month's vote by World Rugby chiefs.
Ireland remain the favourites to host the event but South Africa have emerged as a strong contender of the three while France are hoping that they can financially out-muscle their rivals despite their bid becoming embroiled in political difficulties.
The South Africans have upped their minimum bid to World Rugby chiefs to stg160m; France have offered stg150m.
“There is a degree of uncertainty in terms of trade and political arrangements but the common travel area will remain in place,” Varadkar insisted, as the bid team were quizzed on the issue by World Rugby leaders.
Varadkar's government have guaranteed the minimum figure of stg£120m required to host the tournament although, for obvious reasons, there were no representatives from the northern government.
“This is about sport, not politics,” insisted David Sterling, interim head of the Northern Ireland civil service. “We have held the Womens Rugby World Cup, the World Police and Fire Games and the Giro d'Italia in the last few years. All five parties in the north are united in wanting this event to happen.”
IRFU CEO Phillip Browne was also quizzed in the presentation about infrastructure – specifically bedroom capacity and stadia – and has promised a historic agreement to ensure that hoteliers do not fleece customers and instead commit to an agreed pricing mechanism should the 2023 bid be successful.
“There are 2.7m bed nights needed and we have 12.2m bed night options as it stands. There are 25,000 beds in Dublin and we will have 50,000 by 2023. By 2020, within an hour's radius of Dublin, there will be 100,000 beds available.
“Getting to and around Ireland is no issue with five major airports and all stadia in major cities. On St Patrick's Day last year, Dublin welcomed 110,000 people for the festival, the Ireland-England Six Nations game and the club finals in Croke Park and there were no problems with capacity.
“In terms of Casement Park stadium in Belfast, we are confident that it will be ready in time as it progresses through the stages of its re-development.”
“We've become more and more confident of our financial package. When this process started, we listened very carefully to what World Rugby were looking for.
Obviously they want commercial success, it is their only revenue source for a four-year period and they need lower risk.
“Working with the two governments, we have put together a financial package. We have matched the guarantee.
“The Irish government will pay the stg£120m fee. That is important. It takes huge pressure off us and it allows us to sell some tickets at €15.
“We are expecting 450,000 visiting fans to come and visit Ireland and we will have to provide them with access to tickets at affordable prices. It also allows us to concentrate on delivering a real world-class event.
“The other elements of the financial package are the tournament guarantee. So, if no tickets were sold at all, the tournament still has to go ahead. So the Irish government has actually underwritten the entire cost of the tournament.
“Another element is the commercial package which is confidential but the government has equally underwritten a significant proportion of that. That package is divided into two: one is the secondary sponsorships and then the corporate hospitality and travel and accommodation packages.
“The corporate packages have met with incredible response from Irish community at home and abroad. Ireland a major hub for multinational foreign investment.
“There is a vast Irish American diaspora of CEOs all wanting to be involved. We are a major European hub for the technology industry, a world leading centre for aircraft leasing industry, pharmaceutical, biomedical.
“All these companies want to be involved. That all goes back to the issue of certainty. The Rugby World Cup wanted certainty with no risk to their revenue streams.
“So the entire financial package is money in the bank. You could effectively bank that today.”
Varadkar echoed his government's financial and emotional support; crucially, their rivals France did not have their leader, Emmanuel Macron, at their side while they delivered their heavily commercialised pitch.
“The government is underwriting the bid in the confidence of net return and an economic impact in terms of excise based on visiting number.
“It is a good business case for the taxpayer. We have passed special legislation with cross-party support. It's an investment in a greater economic return.”
Minister for Sport Shane Ross added, “This process has undergone vigorous parliamentary scrutiny and has been passed by parliament so that makes it much stronger than any of the other bids.”
Former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, the bid's high-profile ambassador, amplified the messages delivered to the World Rugby council members who were also shown a video featuring Bob Geldof reciting Yeats' “Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
“It's about the welcome that people will get, it is typified by the céad mile failte. We're not happy giving you one welcome, we'll give you a thousand.
“People will be smothered with love. This is a big as it gets. We'[re so proud of our country and will put our best foot forward. The GAA and soccer people will get behind this.”
Coming Soon: Independent.ie's new GAA newsletter. Sign up here