Belfast Telegraph

Casement Park would be only Northern Ireland stadium to meet World Cup 2030 bid criteria

The proposed new Casement Park stadium unveiled by Ulster GAA
The proposed new Casement Park stadium unveiled by Ulster GAA
Antrim footballers who had to play their home Ulster Championship game in Armagh on Saturday

By Gillian Halliday

Casement Park is set to be Northern Ireland's sole stadium in the joint UK and Irish bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

The west Belfast GAA ground is to undergo major redevelopment, but the project has been hit by lengthy delays.

However, the Department for Communities (DfC) has indicated that it will form part of the planned bid for the tournament.

An essential criteria to host a World Cup game is a minimum seating capacity of 40,000 - the redeveloped Casement Park would be the only venue to meet this requirement as it stands.

Windsor Park, home to the Northern Ireland team, has a capacity of around 18,000 - just under half the required capacity. However, the stadium could be used as a training base.

The Casement Park report, which appeared in yesterday's Sunday Times, would appear to pour cold water over plans which emerged earlier this year for a new football stadium to be constructed here as part of the bid.

The DfC told the Sunday Times that Casement Park was central to the proposed bid, expected to be made later this year.

"The English FA, FA of Wales, Irish FA, Scottish FA and FA of Ireland are all in discussions about the feasibility of bidding to be the European candidate to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup," it said. "The governments of the UK, Republic of Ireland, and the devolved administrations are all active participants in those discussions. Currently Casement Park is the only regional stadium in or near Belfast that there are plans for."

The £110m proposed redevelopment of Casement Park has suffered a series of delays in recent years, and faces a revised planning application which will be considered by the Department for Infrastructure in the ongoing absence of a Stormont minister.

The decision to choose Casement Park may be viewed as controversial in some political and sporting circles.

However, high-profile GAA members have already hailed the cross-community potential.

Antrim GAA chairman Ciaran McCavana told the Sunday Times he supported the facility being used for the impending World Cup bid and other big-capacity matches.

"If we in the GAA can help another sporting organisation and also help the community economically with the money that the games would bring into Belfast and also reach out to sections of the community in the north that naturally wouldn't go to GAA grounds, wouldn't it all be positive?" he said.

England hosted the 1966 World Cup and bid unsuccessfully for the 2018 tournament, which was staged in Russia.

The next two tournaments are due to be held in the Gulf state of Qatar in 2022, and a joint United States, Canada and Mexico tournament four years later. Other likely candidate for 2030 are Morocco; a joint Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile bid; and a joint Romania, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia bid.

On a visit to Belfast in February, Prime Minister Theresa May said a joint UK and Ireland bid to host the World Cup would help strengthen relations across the Irish Sea post-Brexit.

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