DANIEL MCCONNELL: Decades of neglect left World Cup bid with too much ground to make up

Well, we got our backsides handed to us, and then some.

Reading the full technical report into Ireland’s bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023, it is a hard-hitting, if sobering, slap to knock us out of our national bout of codology.

Despite having been bookies’ favourite, under a cold examination by World Rugby, we came a distant third of the three bids.

Our confidence was built upon our belief that we could offer a uniquely Irish event.

We won’t be the biggest, we won’t be the most professional, we will more than likely rip you off, but hopefully you will get so pissed that you won’t mind.

We had led ourselves to believe we could compete to host the competition, but the document, all 139 pages of it, makes it clear we are not at the races when it comes to South Africa (the preferred bidder) and France.

The great populist, Shane Ross, and his new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, were “fully behind” the bid, saying it had the full priority of Government throughout.

We are all aware of the phrase “if you build it, they will come”, but it is clear the technical examiners were not convinced by our attitude of “if you come, we will build it”.

While we led the way in terms of the inclusive concept of our bid, we fell well short on the practical nuts and bolts to deliver on that admirable
concept.

According to my sources, who are close to the process, the Irish bid died the minute the technical team looked outside Dublin, and in particular, one of the key weaknesses was the lack of adequate roads in the Munster area.

“They were shocked by the lack of motorway or even highways in the Munster region and that, coupled with the major concerns over high-speed internet connections to the various stadia, meant the Irish bid was dead by the time they passed the M50,” one mole told me.

But other gaping holes in the Irish bid were exposed throughout the examination.

Let us begin with the venues and host cities, one of the most important of the five criteria given it accounted for 30% of the total weightings.

Ultimately, Ireland was ranked behind the other candidates due to major stadium upgrades or building work that would be required. According to World Rugby, this made it a higher risk even if there was a confidence that this would be completed.

Crucially, it was found that all but two of the proposed venues needed major upgrading for IT purposes.

Addressing this would entail “significant upgrade works” that introduce an element of “risk” despite a confidence by the assessors that it would be addressed.

Most importantly, we fell down because Casement Park in Belfast has still to be rebuilt and still subject to planning permission, while Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney and the newly kitted out Páirc Uí Chaoimh were listed as other venues in need of considerable upgrading in order to meet RWC standards.

RWC also stated a desire to have 100% seating for venues hosting category A and all knockout games. Ireland offered 95%, with the 5% standing accounted for by Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

That could be made an all-seater if absolutely required.

Ireland’s bid also fell down because of our lack of a track record in hosting such a major tournament before.

“Experience has become an increasingly important factor in the successful delivery of the tournament and a number of challenges currently existing in relation to RWC 2019 relate to the relative inexperience of the OC [organising committee] in Japan,” states the report.

This basically tarred Ireland with another “level of risk”, the all-island bid falling behind France, who in turn scored lower than South Africa due to the 2024 Paris Olympics which would threaten to overshadow the World Cup.

We also fell down when it came to money. Ireland scored a distant third in terms of tournament fee — the one that carried most of the weight (35%).

“The commitments from France and South Africa to add an extra £50m (€56.9m) or so onto the minimum fee of £120m (€136.6m) was always going to pay dividends. Money talks,” as my colleague Brendan O’Brien wrote the other day.

Despite the reality check, Varadkar and Ross were kidding themselves that the fight goes on and that they will fight tooth and nail to the end.

The game is lost and this was confirmed yesterday when New Zealand, which previously had expressed support for Ireland’s bid, said it was now backing South Africa’s bid.

The examining team, in short, concluded that Ireland had too much ground to make up.

In short, the bid was a damning indictment of successive governments’ failure to invest properly in infrastructure outside of Dublin.

Reading between the lines, the failure of the Irish bid was not merely a sporting one, but primarily a political one.

Whatever about falling short in terms of the tournament fee bid, which we did, the technical team’s placement of Ireland in last place was the culmination of decades of neglect in terms of our road, rail, and infrastructure network.

Despite the countless Government announcements, the Ireland of 2017 still has considerable broadband blackspots in many rural areas and even in some spots within our major urban areas.

While we have time and time again talked a good game about investing in our future, the report is not just a roadmap to our failings in terms of our sporting infrastructure, but in truth it is a guidemap to how we need to play catch-up if we are to be taken seriously as a tech hub or to be at the cutting edge of the tech industry.

To illustrate my point, capital spending during the crash was eviscerated in order for politicians to avoid even more painful cuts to day-to-day spending.

In numbers terms, in 2007, just before the crash hit, the full public provision for capital expenditure rose from €9.3bn to €11.8bn, according to Department of Finance documentation.

In 2017, capital spending amounted to €4.5bn compared to the €53.4bn of current expenditure, and we are awaiting publication of the Government’s 10-year plan for capital
spending due to be announced later this month.

While there have been signals that some of the deficiencies exposed in the Rugby World Cup bid will be addressed in that plan, the bottom line is that the decades of neglect of the country outside Dublin has been laid bare.

There has already been talk of Ireland pitching for the 2027 competition. The view is that we use the time to correct the failings in our 2023 bid and leave no stone unturned next time.

However, the deficiencies identified are likely to take a good deal longer than four years to rectify and delve much deeper than mere sporting matters.

World Class? Not even close. It is back to the drawing board.


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