Regardless of the cost to the exchequer and the hundreds of other things the Government would be better off doing with the money, there are too many elements working in Ireland’s favour.
There is the fact fellow bidders France and South Africa have hosted previously in 2007 and 1995 respectively. The proximity of stadia to urban areas is considerably appealing — Cork chairman Ger Lane says the World Rugby (WR) officials couldn’t get over how close Páirc Uí Chaoimh was to the city centre. But above all else, what Ireland has that the others don’t is a remarkable show of ecumenism. Brexit may yet pose a difficulty but in the attempt to stage the tournament, the border may as well not exist. Expect Casement Park’s staggered redevelopment process to accelerate should Ireland get the thumbs-up on November 15.
And then there’s the neighbourliness of the GAA. Of course, there’s something in it for them too — venues like Fitzgerald Stadium would be in line for floodlights and more on the back of the bid being successful. But it appeals to WR that a rival sport, that only 12 years ago amended Rule 42, are prepared to be so hospitable.
Ireland have bent their backs more than their rivals.
Recalling the opening of Croke Park in 2007 earlier this year, then GAA president Nickey Brennan mentioned how former England captain and current WR chairman Bill Beaumont sought him out at the Ireland-England Six Nations match to thank him for the decision taken at Congress two years previous. Feasibility is obviously an essential element to any submission but the Irish story is compelling and sure aren’t the land of a thousand welcomes, and all that blarney?
Ireland also has a distinct advantage over France in that its advertising regulations regarding alcohol aren’t as stringent, meaning rugby chiefs can reap the estimated €30 million Heineken have paid to be their partners for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The 2015 Alcohol Bill, accumulating dust on top of rust at this stage in the Oireachtas, would change that. Restrictions on advertising would make Ireland’s package less attractive.
Although the GAA have retained Guinness as pouring partners in Croke Park, the stout brand’s 18-year sponsorship of the hurling championship was ended by the GAA in 2013. It was a reluctant one and somewhat understandably given the superb promotion Guinness provided the competition, even as an associate sponsor for the last six years of the relationship. In 2004, the organisation had been recommended by an alcohol and substance abuse committee that it should “ultimately phase out this form of sponsorship”.
The parting of ways (of sorts) was also a pre-emptive one. Speaking to this newspaper in 2011, GAA stadium and commercial director Peter McKenna sensed Brussels would soon prohibit alcohol branding: “Looking at it from a wider perspective, which is from a European view, alcohol sponsorship and branding will eventually be taken off the market. We’ve seen that in France and other European countries and I think that’s inevitable.”
Of course, we could take matters into our own hands by bringing the Alcohol Bill into law, but so long as it poses a threat to Ireland’s chances of being awarded the bid, it will not be voted upon, at least not as it reads now. That’s even taking into account Minister of State at the Department of Health Marcella Corcoran Kennedy’s call last month for “a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, promotion and sponsorship” across the EU. Not everyone is on the same page in this Government, not when hosting a global tournament is at stake.
Alcohol sure has a way of compelling rule-makers. In 2015, New Zealand’s parliament rushed through a law permitting the sale of alcohol for early morning games during their hosting of that year’s Rugby World Cup. Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan claims the licensing laws in Northern Ireland will have to be loosened if the tournament is awarded to Ireland.
Unless the EU introduces legislation in the meantime, alcohol branding is set for a return to the sidelines of some of the GAA’s best pitches once more should Ireland be revealed as the victors in London. That flies in the face of the great strides made by the GAA particularly in its alcohol and substance prevention (ASAP) programme and other initiatives under the supervision of community and health manager Colin Regan. But our criticism is not for the GAA. It was asked by the Government to don the green jersey. Funding, goodwill and optics considered, it couldn’t say no.
The GAA was slammed for its association with Guinness when the IRFU’s ties with alcohol brands were far more deep-rooted yet they were spared admonishment. The IRFU will get another pass now as they beckon the world to our doorstep, but the hypocrisy of the political expediency that will inevitably surround it shouldn’t be overlooked.
Referees must be culpable
The appointment of referees to inter-county games is a mystery when you would think it would be based on merit. There are examples when it is — the best referees regularly feature in August and September — and then there are times when it is not. Why, for example, did Ciarán Branagan take charge of Cork-Tipperary after his Diarmuid Connolly blunder?
Sure, we’ve seen match officials punished for poor performances, either being dropped off the championship panel or in the cases of Barry Kelly and Cormac Reilly, never officiating championship games involving Kilkenny and Mayo respectively after their performances in games involving each of those counties were condemned.
Paddy Neilan is an up-and-coming referee but what he produced in Saturday’s All- Ireland qualifier in Thurles left so much to be desired. In a way, it’s a testament to Armagh, deserved winners, that his decision to call back the play for a free when they found the net in the first half didn’t upset them. Then again, they had time to get over it unlike Tipperary who are still at a loss to understand why he did the same when Philip Austin’s late advance on goal was collared so that his team could be awarded a free.
On Sunday, another improving referee, Anthony Nolan, was also guilty of blowing his whistle when it would have been more beneficial to Dublin to allow advantage as Paul Mannion struck the ball to the net. At least it didn’t matter at that stage.
Unfortunately for Neilan, his decisions did in Semple Stadium and his misuse of the advantage rule underlines the argument that it’s not just the black card that referees find difficult to implement. It will be argued that Neilan won’t learn without another outing but if the GAA is to show that their appointment system works, he shouldn’t be assigned another game in this championship.
GAA is neglecting its most loyal fans
At 7am yesterday morning, the only admission available on tickets.ie for both Saturday and Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-finals in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh were for the Blackrock and City End terraces.
Build it and they will come, indeed, but the decision to fix the All-Ireland intermediate semi-final between Cork and Kilkenny as the curtain-raiser ahead of the Wexford-Waterford clash on Sunday has all but ensured demand will outstrip supply.
On Friday, Waterford secretary Pat Flynn had to inform clubs that only 80% of clubs’ orders for adult stand tickets would be met. A day later, he had to clarify that it would be even less. He wrote in an email: “Following further examination and review of the entire ticket position, the situation is more serious than earlier advised. We therefore have no alternative but to reduce all orders for stand tickets by a greater margin — 43%.” On one hand, the GAA’s decision to split the quarter-finals has been well and truly justified. At €30 a ticket per day, the same price as admission for the double-header in Thurles last year, they are doubling their gate receipts or, to put it more bluntly, one senior inter-county championship game for the price of two.
However, when those who pay memberships to clubs are being hindered in their pursuit of tickets, it raises questions about the GAA’s distribution methods.
Obviously, they had to be diversified but should it be the case that someone logging onto a website last Wednesday be prioritised ahead of those who already pay subscriptions?
Where’s the loyalty in that?