Northern Ireland sports fans would make 2030 World Cup special, says Michael O'Neill
The prospect of the World Cup coming to Northern Ireland has been raised as the English FA signaled it is considering bidding for the 2030 tournament.
The Football Association’s board has approved a feasibility study into becoming Europe’s only bid for the tournament. And the government's preferred option is for any bid to be on the basis of a home nations joint approach - something governing body FIFA would likely prefer.
The IFA welcomed the move, saying it would support any potential bid.
And national boss Michael O'Neill said it would be something sport lovers in Northern Ireland would relish if it became a reality.
"I think it's positive," he said. "It's a long way off - I'm not sure I'll be in charge at that point in time but it's a positive thing.
"We've a fantastic stadium here (at Windsor Park). Certainly in the UK, they have the stadiums to host the World Cup, there's no doubt about that. If that was to be the case, it would certainly be nice to have a part of that.
"It would be huge. There's no better example than the recent World Cup in Russia. People’s perception of Russia has changed somewhat in terms of how their people embraced the tournament."
O'Neill also backed local sports fans to make the event extra special.
He continued: "To get an event of that stature and to be part of it would be huge for Northern Ireland. The public here are brilliant at backing any major sporting event – you’ll see that in a few weeks when Carl Frampton fights here (at Windsor) – so it would be great.”
England won the only World Cup it has ever hosted in 1966 but lost with bids for the 2006 and 2018 competitions.
That most recent defeat was an embarrassing and expensive affair, with England going out in the first round of voting, but the FA has made little secret of its interest in trying again, particularly as it now has more faith in FIFA’s selection process.
With the World Cup growing from 32 to 48 teams in 2026, when the 80-game tournament will be held in Canada, Mexico and the United States, FIFA has hinted it believes the event may be too big for one country.
This has led to speculation that any bid from the United Kingdom will actually be an English-led joint bid with one, two or all three of the other home nations, and both the Prime Minister Theresa May and the opposition Labour Party gave their support for this idea last month.
The FA has not confirmed or denied if it is considering a joint bid with any combination of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but it has now formally admitted it is studying options.
In a statement, FA chairman Greg Clarke said: “Last month the English FA board agreed to conduct feasibility work into the possibility of putting itself forward to be UEFA’s potential candidate to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.
“This work will take place during the new season and no decision will be made until 2019.”
Clarke’s use of “English” FA is revealing as there is a conscious effort at football’s oldest national governing body to be humbler on the world stage, where every other FA’s name contains a reference to its nationality.
Another example of this can be seen in Clarke’s response to one of his predecessors’ suggestion that England could stage the 2022 World Cup if FIFA strips Qatar of its right to host the tournament.
This follows last weekend’s Sunday Times report that Qatar’s bid engaged in a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign to discredit its rivals in the build-up to the 2010 vote, an allegation Qatar has denied.
If proven true, however, former FA chairman Lord Triesman told the newspaper FIFA should give the World Cup to England, as it had the know-how and infrastructure in place to stage one at short notice.
We support the rotation of World Cup hosting among the confederations Greg Clarke
This intervention was not well received by the FA’s current regime, though.
“FIFA has chosen Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup and they have a duty to investigate any issues around the process that are rightly thrown into question,” said Clarke.
“Russia did a brilliant job hosting the 2018 World Cup and we support the rotation of World Cup hosting among the confederations. That would make the 2030 World Cup the next one a European nation might be able to host, and not before.
“Anyone suggesting otherwise is acting disrespectfully to our global game and does not speak for the English FA.”
The point about the rotation of World Cups among FIFA’s six confederations is important because Qatar is in the Asian Football Confederation, which means putative bids from China or North and South Korea would have to wait until 2034, as a host confederation cannot bid for the next two World Cups.
As the 2026 tournament is in North America, the 2030 battle looks set to be between a Moroccan-led North African bid, a joint bid from Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay and whoever emerges from Europe.
Of those two, the South American bid looks the most compelling as 2030 will be the 100th anniversary of the first World Cup in Uruguay and South America will claim it is its turn next as the continent’s last
World Cup was Brazil 2014, compared to Europe’s Russia 2018.
Africa, on the other hand, has staged only one World Cup, the 2010 tournament in South Africa, and Morocco’s failed bid for the 2026 event was its fifth such defeat.
Belfast Telegraph Digital