Monday 19 November 2018

Comment: Sepp Blatter’s curious desire for an England-Ireland World Cup bid should not be taken seriously

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The only good thing about the call for Ireland to play a part in hosting the 2030 World Cup is that it didn't come from Shane Ross.

We are approaching the one-year anniversary of his claim that the Olympics should be next on the list if the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid was successful.

That went well.

Perhaps Sepp Blatter is unaware, as the former FIFA president is now pushing the idea of Ireland pairing up with England and possibly Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to have a crack at hosting football's showpiece in 2030.

He's not exactly the ideal figure to be driving any discussion on the hosting of a major tournament.

Blatter must take ultimate responsibility for the shameful voting process that will bring the competition to Qatar in four years' time.

But he's got his own ideas for 2030, although his point was a tad jumbled.

In one interview, he appeared to advocate a proposed UK bid that would involve England, Scotland, Wales and possibly Northern Ireland. By the time he got to speak to Sky Sports News, the tone had changed.

"I think England or Ireland deserve to organise the World Cup," he said. "They (England) have had it in '66 so it is a long time ago.

"I spoke with one of your colleagues from Associated Press and he said if Wales and Scotland joined together and I said, why not Ireland?'"

"All of Ireland together! They will be a candidate I'm sure... And I think with 48 teams, you need more than one country, definitely."

It would be a very Irish thing to get involved in a World Cup bid when one of the biggest problems facing the sport in the country is the absence of quality facilities at senior level.

And if this idea ever got off the ground - and that's a massive 'if' - then it's difficult to see what Ireland could really bring to the table beyond Dublin.

That was one of the issues with the joint bid with Scotland to host Euro 2008, although the Scots were providing most of the stadiums. The FAI were putting forward Croke Park and either a new stadium in Abbotstown or a renovated Lansdowne Road, but the absence of certainty about Ireland's ability to deliver two venues was one of the concerns raised by voters who looked elsewhere.

Ironically enough, Blatter was thought to be heavily influential in Austria and Switzerland getting the nod. Those same concerns still linger now, even though we now have the Aviva Stadium which has hosted a Europa League final and ticked the boxes for Ireland to be one of the co-hosts for the bloated Euro 2020.

But a World Cup would ask completely different questions. It is true that the expansion to 48 teams will pose logistical issues for any potential venue and that's partially why the successful bid for 2026 involves the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The latter pair will provide just three venues with USA the main host and that lays out the template for other prospective candidates. England would be the USA in Blatter's vision, with the smaller countries putting forward a couple of venues.

Croke Park and the Aviva would be able to meet criteria, but similar to the doomed rugby plan, the only other viable options would be renovated GAA stadiums.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh would have to be closed and remodelled to reach the standard.

With five hosts, maybe two venues in the south would be enough, and Dublin would be able to satisfy demand in terms of hotels and transport.

FIFA do not practise what they preach in this regard anyway, as travellers to Russian cities with laughably low levels of accommodation have found out.

Where there's a will to bring a tournament somewhere, FIFA will always find a way.

However, handing five places over to hosts would be a step too far, so that's a non-runner. And an England-Ireland double team, as proposed by Blatter, would simply be too imbalanced. Ireland simply isn't ready for it, even as the junior partner.

That is why the government's enthusiasm to pump money into the 2023 rugby plan was a frustration. It's always the massive glamour events that start discussions about opening facilities to all sports when, in reality, a progressive sports minister should be pushing that at the lowest levels with no fanfare.

Capital sports grants are used as a vehicle for parish pump politics, and that also feeds into the Bull McCabe 'It's my field' attitude that has made Ireland a country with a plethora of modest stadiums - nowhere near the standard that would be needed for an underage tournament, never mind a World Cup.

We don't deserve to host a major tournament and Blatter's damaged credibility will hopefully ensure that this never gets off the ground. Having it in England, Scotland and Wales makes far more sense.

Irish Independent

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