Long road ahead if FAI are to turn Euro finals bid into reality
AS Ireland gets ready for Euro 2012 fever, the FAI yesterday confirmed that it would be joining its Scottish and Welsh counterparts in putting forward an expression of interest to host the 2020 renewal of the competition.
It was a move that took everybody by surprise, including leading figures within the FAI, and that fact illustrates the embryonic nature of this idea.
"The expression of interest is preliminary after the principle was discussed and is being put forward by the three Associations so that the opportunity can be explored in more detail," read a statement from Abbotstown.
"At this stage no bids would be expected or required by UEFA for at least 18 months."
UEFA set an initial deadline of last night for possible hosts to register interest. Now that's done, the three Celtic nations need to assess the viability of launching a campaign.
HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT?
Officials from Scotland and Wales discussed a joint bid in the past. They decided against mounting a campaign for the 2016 renewal.
Previously, Scotland and Ireland's Euro 2008 vision fell at the first hurdle, thanks to a lack of Irish infrastructure influenced by the wrangling over the 'Bertie Bowl'.
The Scots would love to host a major tournament, but don't have enough suitable stadiums or a geographical spread to justify a solo run. Hence, the need for support.
The problem for themselves and Wales is that, together, they don't have the requisite number of stadiums. That's why Ireland was called in.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS?
Two stadiums with over 50,000 seats are required, in addition to a further three with a capacity of over 40,000 and at least four that can house over 30,000. Ten stadiums will be used in France in 2016, but their bid was successful with just nine outlined.
Another problem for the Scottish Football Association is that three of their main stadiums -- Hampden Park, Parkhead and Ibrox -- are all situated in Glasgow, and the organisers generally try to restrict it to two venues in the same city.
The Millennium Stadium is the outstanding ground in Wales; the home grounds of Cardiff and Swansea would require expansion to reach 30,000.
WHAT CAN IRELAND OFFER?
The Aviva Stadium, obviously, and Croke Park would also come into the mix.
The GAA would have to consider the implications for their championship summer before they agreed to anything.
But the intention is that Ireland would offer more than one ground. Thomond Park would need significant improvements to meet the criteria.
THREE COUNTRIES HOSTING A TOURNAMENT -- IS THAT ALLOWED?
It appears to be allowed in exceptional circumstances, but there is no effective precedent and it seems far-fetched to believe that UEFA would go down that route.
The expansion from 16 to 24 teams will make the Euros more accessible, yet granting three automatic places to the hosts would be a curious move -- and that's what Scotland, Wales and Ireland would understandably be looking for if they invested in a joint bid.
HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST?
It's hard to put a figure on what it would entail for Ireland.
On the face of it, the Aviva and Croke Park are in suitable condition -- nevertheless, to host a large-scale competition, a list of requirements have to be met.
Within the stadiums, there would have to be a provision for extra press seats, improvements in Wi-Fi and other modifications.
Around the city itself, UEFA would seek guarantees with respect to transport and other infrastructure.
Ukraine had a lot to do this time around, and it's estimated they could be left with a €6m debt. Admittedly, a large amount of that fell to stadium construction but, in the current climate, it's hard to envisage much enthusiasm for an expensive project -- despite the Government welcoming yesterday's news.
In terms of the FAI's commitment, they have borrowed extensively to fund their commitment to the Aviva and are targeting being debt-free by 2020.
Theoretically, hosting the finals could be lucrative, but speculating to accumulate would be a risk, given their existing targets.
SO WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?
Georgia have also registered their interest in holding the competition, but only have two suitable stadiums so their plan is even more ambitious than the tri-nation plot.
Still, there's a sense that UEFA are glad for a bit of competition. Turkey have long been the favourites to land this renewal and Michel Platini has already pledged support, with conditions.
The Turks must sort out their in-house problems -- allegations of corruption and match-fixing have left them in disarray.
Another complication is that Istanbul is planning to make an Olympic bid in the same year and that would scupper the Turks' Euro ambitions.
Perhaps the prospect of a rival option will give the Turks a kick up the backside. In the end, that could prove to be the legacy of a Celtic bid that seems more of a half-hearted notion than a masterplan.