Ireland legend Ray Houghton has urged the FAI to undertake a cost-benefit analysis before they decide to flank the UK nations on a joint-bid to host the 2030 World Cup.
The British government pledged €3.2m towards an ongoing feasibility study into the merits of launching a pitch to stage the expanded 48-nation, 80-game tournament across 16 stadia in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.
Fifa have indicated that the bidding process will open in 2022, with a deadline of 2024 for submissions.
Speaking to delegates at a webinar last night, FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill reiterated his confidence about the prospect of a collaborative project. The former English FA commercial director has branded the quest as “absolutely credible”.
However, given the FAI’s debts are climbing above €70m and substantial investment is required to modernise League of Ireland grounds, valid questions have arisen on value attached to embarking on such a risky mission.
Houghton, who played for Ireland at the 1990 and 1994 World Cup, famously scoring the winner against Italy in the latter, pleaded with Irish chiefs to carefully consider its viability.
“The Government and FAI have to look at the cost of co-hosting the tournament and whether they can recoup the outlay,” he told.
“Would they be better off spending that money on grassroots level, League of Ireland, and the international teams? Everything has to be evaluated.
“Co-hosting the tournament is the way forward for World Cups. England have lost out twice on hosting the tournament so maybe they think they have a better opportunity of winning by bidding with Ireland.” No details of proposed stadia have been unveiled as yet. It is anticipated that, of the 16 venues required, England will supply at least 10, with Scotland providing three along with Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
That leaves two for the Island of Ireland but Windsor Park’s capacity of 18,500 rules it out as a possibility.
While Croke Park and Aviva Stadium are the clear favourites, spreading the games outside of Dublin puts Páirc Uí Chaoimh firmly in the frame to compete.
An upgrade to install seats at both ends is a must but the economic and prestige benefit to Cork and the Munster region enhance the argument.
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin described the plan as “an exciting possibility” but warned “we are still in the very early stages of assessing how and if this major global tournament could be part hosted by our nation”.
Before the bid contends with rivals from other confederations, it must first overcome what is considered the biggest battle of all within Europe.
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has already expressed a preference for the continent to proceed with a single bid, thereby avoiding the perils of divide and conquer in the ultimate voting process, and already jostling for victory is well underway.
Spain and Portugal last October confirmed their intention to mount a joint bid.
It was telling that two members of Uefa’s executive committee who are also vice-presidents, Luis Rubiales and Fernando Gomes, were at the forefront of their public charm offensive, extolling the virtues of the countries’ appeal. If the judging was weighted by success at major tournaments over the past 20 years, the Iberians would be untouchable.
Out of the traps before them was the four-nation bid from Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania. In August 2019, the respective presidents signed a memorandum of understanding committing to seek major tournament hosting rights. Crucially, that mission also includes a bid to host the 2028 European Championships, creating potential for a compromise to be reached between Uefa members.
Beyond Europe, competition is expected from around the globe. Uruguay, triumphant hosts of the first World Cup in 1930, are embarking on a collaborative punt alongside fellow South Americans Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile. That the 2026 showpiece is being held in Mexico, the USA, and Canada has to count against that particular venture.
The greatest show on earth has just once converged on Africa, for the 2010 South Africa spectacular, and Morocco are prepared to launch their sixth bid to host. All that has to be decided is which countries they have on the ticket, with Tunisia and Algeria the early candidates. Egypt is also in the equation for involvement.
Given the pulling power of south-east Asia, murmurs of a Chinese bid abound. Encouraged by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, the Chinese have made inroads towards attracting top football events.
For all their lack of footballing tradition, China has the financial firepower to not only meet, but exceed, the transport and stadia standard thresholds. They will have constructed at least 12 major new football stadiums by 2022, the year they host the Asian Games. Staging the Fifa World Club Cup this December is first on their agenda.