Can Ireland really host a World Cup when proper investment in football has been so lacking, asks Craig Banks.

Imagine it…Gianni Infantino ordering a Guinness in Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Temple Bar surrounded by fellow FIFA suits, the perfect photo opportunity. Ghana versus Ukraine in the Aviva Stadium the following day. Money back in the country, the swinging 20’s still powering through into the 30’s, the drinks are raised, a big cheer with the drooling media. World Cup 2030 is here and the Irish are ready to celebrate. 

On Monday of this week the news broke that the FAI have agreed to support the joint bid with the UK to host the World Cup in 2030. The announcement was greatly received by footballing nations across the globe but Irish football fans and those working in the game have asked themselves ‘really?’. The country is all too aware of the controversy and fallout of the previous administration, years of mismanagement and greed has led to the FAI being in debt to the tune of over €70 million. In light of Monday’s statement, the association announced that they hope to have a minimum of two cities to host games in the 2030 World Cup with the aspiration of adding a third. It is imagined that one of these will be the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The 52,000-seater ground meets FIFA criteria and includes plenty of space for executives and national delegates to fill the 36 private boxes. 

What irks Irish football fans with this bid is the fact that the association and government appear to be going for a World Cup bid but can’t get their own house in order i.e. our national league and the stadia that go with it. There are arguably two modern small sized stadiums across the 26 counties in the Republic used for football, that is Tallaght Stadium and Turner’s Cross. Some might argue against the Cork venue but it is a fully seated and covered ground (modern, maybe not so much). The reliance on the GAA will define Ireland’s bid. 

Croke Park would require approval but the ground itself has not had an upgrade in nearly 20 years; you also have to include Hill 16 into the equation which is not a covered stand nor is it what would be expected from a World Cup standard stadium. While Croke Park is beautiful and one of the country’s greatest landmarks, going by recent World Cups, all of the venues hosting matches are either built for the tournament or existing stadiums are given a complete refurbishment (check Luzhniki stadium Champions League final 2008 to Luzhniki stadium World Cup final 2018). 

Pairc ui Chaoimh again would require GAA approval but the question is would FIFA see this stadium advanced enough to host a World Cup match? The ground was redeveloped beautifully in 2017 but would require additional seating to qualify to host a game where the minimum requirement is 40,000 seats. 

Dalymount Park has needed redevelopment for over 20 years now. When the main Jodi stand was updated in 1999 there was still another ¾ of the ground requiring a facelift. For nearly 10 years, half of the ground has been closed off for safety reasons leaving it with a maximum capacity of 3,800. 

Sod was turned nearly 13 years ago in Donegal as Finn Harps began the exciting development of their new home in Stranorlar, Donegal. Workers left the site one evening in 2014 and have not returned since. 

Oriel Park, the home of Dundalk FC, Ireland’s dominant club over the last decade, is in a sad state. Over the last seven years Dundalk have seen some of the club’s greatest nights take place but the majority of these were in Tallaght Stadium. The list goes on: United Park in Drogheda, Carlisle Grounds in Bray, Tolka Park, Richmond Park. The planned attendance of the potential stadium developments above has never exceeded 12,000 seats – most well below that marker – yet the FAI and Irish government cannot support the clubs in this situation. 

How do the FAI, or anyone else for that matter, believe that we really have what it takes to partly present an international tournament if the association and the Irish government can’t progress on plans made over 10 years ago for a new 6,000-seater stadium? The costs of hosting a World Cup are astronomical. We may only be providing two to three venues but where will this money come from? Sure, hosting a World Cup would be magnificent for the people of Ireland but getting to that point costs a lot in terms of funds and man hours and I don’t believe the FAI have either. 

Sufficient state support has not been provided in regards to the national league for a long time. But with average attendances rising modestly over the last five years and clubs becoming more self-sufficient after the noughties, maybe it’s time grounds began to get the redevelopment that they so badly need.

The World Cup announcement also came in the same week as the national broadcaster deciding to pull the plug on our ‘Match of The Day’, after 12 years of production. RTE have stated: “The numbers engaging with Soccer Republic had been declining, as is the case of most highlights programmes, for a number of years.” Figures must be low for most productions that begin past 11pm on a weekday night consisting of roughly 90 seconds of actual game footage. The league and fans do not want to compete with the Premier League, far from it but they do want to be recognised. 

Next year will mark 20 years since our last appearance at a World Cup. Since that tournament in Japan and Korea, the sport at international level has seen a slow decline in this country. The idea of Ireland hosting World Cup matches would be more feasible if we had an organisation that had public trust, a competitive national league and adequate funding but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Maybe working on the foundations of the sport in this country first and supplying the public with a prosperous league with modest yet attractive stadiums could be the way forward, or maybe we’ll have Gianni and the boys over for a brown enveloped jolly-up with some overpriced Guinness in June 2030.

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