THE possibility of Ireland hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup moved a step closer yesterday after a cross-border working group was established with a view to launching a formal bid.
The group will comprise key bodies associated with preparing a bid and will report to the Northern Ireland Executive and Dublin Government for agreement before the bid is given the green light.
Ireland's bid will be reliant on the GAA providing at least half of the 12 stadiums needed to host the tournament.
In his annual report published earlier this week, the GAA's director general, Paraic Duffy (below) reiterated the association's support for the bid but stressed that any upgrade of GAA grounds would need to be largely government-funded.
"Clearly, a successful bid will involve an upgrade of facilities at some of the GAA grounds selected in order to meet the specific requirements of the Rugby World Cup," said Duffy.
"We have made it clear that such upgrades must be funded, in large part, by government.
"If a bid to host the tournament is successful, a long-term view will need to be taken of any proposed improvements at the selected GAA grounds to ensure that they meet both our needs and the likely requirements of the World Cup Organising Committee."
Northern Ireland's Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure Carál Ní Chuilín and Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster met with their Dublin counterparts Leo Varadkar and Michael Ring in Armagh yesterday and the quartet were bullish about the success of an all-Ireland bid.
"The GAA have said that they will make their facilities available but the details of that, of course, have to be worked out," said Minister Varadkar.
"It's still very early days, but the four of us believe that Ireland has what it takes to host a cracking World Cup."
Minister Ní Chuilín said: "The island of Ireland has a lot to offer the global rugby family and there would be a lot of benefits to be gained by hosting such a prestigious event.
"The (Northern Ireland) Executive is investing £110m in upgrading stadia in Belfast which includes the redevelopment of Ravenhill.
"While we would have world class venues to host the Rugby World Cup, there is a lot of work required to get us into a position to make a successful bid."
Minister Foster said: "It is not just about the actual games but where the teams will be hosted during the competition as well. Obviously, from our perspective, we want to ensure that there are big games played in
Northern Ireland as well. "That's something we will talk to the working group about so that there is a good geographical spread of games right across the island so that we can all experience the excitement of the World Cup."
The Irish Minster Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring, was also upbeat adding: "An event of this scale will not only have a great benefit for rugby but will also raise the profile of what sport can do for the country. We all witnessed the massive boost to the national mood that was provided by the London Olympics.
"The Rugby World Cup is probably the largest event we could ever host on our own on the island and I would hope it would have a similar impact here.
"Sport is a great unifier, it brings people together and large events like this can also bring about a great sense of pride."
The 2011 World Cup, successfully hosted by New Zealand, provides a blueprint for the proposed Ireland bid.
Auckland's 60,000 capacity Eden
Park hosted the final while New Zealand also used six other stadiums with capacities of over 25,000.
The remaining five venues used at the 2011 World Cup had capacities between 15,000 and 22,000.
All Rugby World Cup stadiums must boast a capacity of at least 15,000 while a 60,000 plus stadium is required for the final.
The IRFU will be able to include the Aviva Stadium, Aviva Stadium and the RDS Arena in Dublin along with Thomond Park in Limerick
and Belfast's redeveloped Ravenhill Stadium in the bid.
The major GAA grounds included in the bid will be Croke Park and the redeveloped Casement Park and Pairc Ui Chaoimh along with at least three other GAA stadiums.