It’s very early days but the possibility of Ireland staging games at the World Cup Finals has moved at least one step closer to becoming reality, with confirmation that the FAI is joining forces with the associations of the four ‘home nations’ to consider making a joint bid for the 2030 tournament.
In a brief statement, the FAI said: “Following recent positive discussions among all parties it has been agreed that the Football Association of Ireland will join the English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish FAs in conducting a feasibility review into a potential joint bid to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.”
Sources say that all five associations would be equal partners in such a bid and that, if successful, Ireland would be allocated a good share of games. However, there is as yet no clear indication one way or another if a successful bid would mean automatic qualification for each of the five host nations in what would be the second World Cup to accommodate 48 teams, after the USA, Mexico, and Canada stage the first edition of the expanded finals in 2026.
While Northern Ireland’s Windsor Park currently has too small a capacity, at 18,000, to host World Cup Finals games, Dublin’s Aviva Stadium (51,000) already meets all the requirements and, if an approach was made and permission to use the venue sanctioned by the GAA, Croke Park (82,000) would obviously more than fit the bill.
The feasibility study will look at all aspects of hosting the tournament, from venues and training facilities to transportation and accommodation and, should Northern Ireland still not have a suitable venue in 12 years’ time, it could still contribute to the running of the tournament by providing training bases for some of the competing nations.
A UK and Republic of Ireland 2030 bid would face competition from a South American combination of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay and, possibly, either a sole candidate run by Spain or a bid by the Spanish in tandem with Portugal and Morocco. There is also a possibility of Morocco opting to head up a North African bid along with Tunisia and Algeria, while there has even been speculation that China, keen to become a new powerhouse in the world game, could yet enter the picture.
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has already backed a British-based bid for the 2030 World Cup.
I’ve said many times that, after all these years, it is time for that part of Europe to get the World Cup,” he said earlier this month. “It would be a wise idea – the infrastructure in the UK is very good.
The Uefa boss also made clear that, in the interests of preserving unity in the federation, he wants to see no more than one bid from Europe for 2030 and, if that does indeed turn out to be the case, then a joint UK-Irish proposal would have the significant head start of being guaranteed the votes of the other 50 UEFA members.
Endorsing the Republic of Ireland’s candidacy as part of a putative five-way bid is the fact that the Aviva Stadium has already successfully played host to a Europa League Final in 2011. Furthermore, Uefa have allocated the U17 European Championships to this country next year and, of course, in 2020, the Aviva Stadium will host four games at the revamped, multi-city senior Euro Finals.
Representatives of the English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, and Irish football associations will continue to meet for discussions over the coming weeks and months, with the feasibility study expected to be wrapped up by the end of January or early February.
A final report will then decide if the plan to submit a formal bid will go ahead, although Football Association of Wales FAW chief executive Jonathan Ford recently suggested that in his opinion “there’s going to be no news until at least midway through 2019”.
The final vote on the host nation or nations for the 2030 World Cup is likely to take place ahead of the controversial 2022 finals in Qatar.
Europe last hosted the finals of the World Cup in 2006, in Germany, while England has not staged the tournament since their national team famously won it on home soil in 1966.