Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

GAA's vote can make Rugby World Cup dream come true

Ireland's case to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup is gathering momentum and so, too, is the historic possibility of a game being staged at Belfast's Casement Park.

Hard on the heels of the Republic's Transport Minister Leo Varadkar having given his support to hosting the proposal has come the all-important permission from the GAA granting use its stadia for rugby matches.

The GAA's vote allowing rugby to be played in its grounds if Ireland's bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup proves successful has given the IRFU dream a real shot in the arm.

While bidding for the 2023 tournament does not get under way for another two years, already the would-be hosts are preparing their cases.

The GAA's support was crucial if the IRFU proposal was to have any chance, so the rugby fraternity waited anxiously for the outcome of Saturday's vote at the annual Congress in Derry.

To their relief and delight a massive 92 per cent said yes and with Mr Varadkar having given the venture his thumbs up, that means it is now a case of all systems go for the rugby men.

The minister has been presented with a feasibility study – carried out by Deloitte and Touche with the support of the Republic's Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the IRFU – into hosting the Rugby World Cup.

The bid is dependent on the availability of a dozen stadia throughout Ireland – some owned by the GAA – plus Mr Varadkar's willingness to provide money enabling facilities at some of those to be upgraded to the required standard.

Having given the IRFU's plan his blessing, now the Transport Minister must persuade his Dublin Cabinet colleagues to guarantee up to €125m to cover any losses suffered during the running of the tournament and to fund work on any of the 12 stadia in need of an upgrade.

Those already up to scratch are the GAA's Croke Park headquarters and the IRFU's Aviva Stadium and Thomond Park in Dublin and Limerick respectively.

Ravenhill is currently is undergoing a major extension which will be completed by September 2014.

The new Casement Park – which when ready will have a capacity of 40,000 – is part of the Rugby World Cup package, too, as are Killarney's Fitzgerald Stadium and the Limerick Gaelic Grounds.

But if they are to meet the standards for safety, access, spectator facilities and financial viability in terms of size, Semple Stadium in Thurles and Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork would require sizeable cash injections from the already hard-pressed Republic's public purse.

The next Rugby World Cup, in England in 2015, will rely heavily on football grounds.

Among those in line to host matches include such iconic venues as Wembley, Old Trafford and St James' Park.

But rugby will certainly owe the GAA a debt of gratitude of the 2023 Rugby World Cup is staged in Ireland.

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