O’Driscoll, O’Connell could help Ireland’s World Cup bid

Star rugby players such as Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell would be fabulous ambassadors for an all-Ireland rugby bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, and if the public get behind it we’ll [have a] very good chance of landing rugby’s biggest prize, Sports Minister Leo Varadker has said.

O’Driscoll, O’Connell could help Ireland’s World Cup bid

Speaking at an International Rugby Board (IRB) conference in Dublin, Mr Varadkar compared the Irish bid to the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa, which unified a country still trying to emerge after decades of a brutal apartheid regime.

Mr Varadkar told up to 600 delegates that the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) wasn’t partitioned when the island split, and that even during the worst of the Troubles rugby was supported by both Catholics and Protestants.

He spoke of the respect that greeted the British National Anthem when it was played at Croke Park in Feb 2007 for the historic clash against England and said hosting the World Cup would help unify the island and symbolise how far Ireland had come.

Mr Varadkar said he would present the research contained in the report to today’s Cabinet meeting and seek permission to engage with the Northern Ireland Executive and the IRFU with an view to setting up a company to make a formal bid.

A “crucial” part of that bid, he said, would be using GAA stadia, including Pairc Uí Chaoimh in Cork, Semple Stadium in Thurles, Fitzgerald Park in Killarney, and the IRFU’s Thomond Park in Limerick.

The Deloitte report suggests, at best, the tournament could be worth up to €800m to the island of Ireland, but Mr Varadkar said that while most of the scenarios were positive, this was the biggest event Ireland could host and it was really about restoring national pride.

The chief executive of the IRFU, Philip Browne, said an Irish tournament would be similar to the New Zealand RWC in 2011, as it would give the 300,000-plus tourists a chance to have “an all-Ireland experience”.

He said because it is in Europe, Ireland was located in the biggest rugby market in the world and European supporters were used to travelling here.

He explained the Irish Government would have to guarantee a figure “somewhere south of €100m” for the IRB, but “this will never be realised” because it would be funded by gate receipts.

If the bid goes ahead it needs to be completed by 2016 and the IRB will announce its decision in 2017.

Ireland’s competitors for 2013 are likely to be South Africa, who are favourites, France and Italy.

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