Casement Park uncertainty cited as factor in damaging all-Ireland 2023 rugby hosting hopes
UNCERTAINTY over the redevelopment of Casement Park contributed towards the all-Ireland bid to host the 2023 rugby world cup ranking last in the technical assessment of its stadium.
Although the chairman of Ireland's 2023 oversight board insisted it remains in the fight to host the tournament, the results released yesterday are regarded as an indication that it is now a two-horse race between France and South Africa.
Ireland is now 7/1 to host the tournament with Paddy Power having been 4/6 favourites just before the findings were made public.
The report noted that Casement Park was "still subject to final planning approval" and that, although "scheduled for redevelopment by 2020 (it) will also require a significant level of overlay".
The Ulster stadium was not the only one to fall short of the standard necessary to host the international event, with inspectors saying "the amount of upgrade work required introduces complexity and therefore a significant risk factor that is not is not inherent in the other two bids".
"Parc Ui Chaoimh (complete August 2017), Pearse Stadium and Fitzgerald Stadium require a significant level of overlay which is flagged as a risk, given the amount of work required to bring these venues up to RWC standard."
And in term of technological infrastructure, the review group found "all but two of the venues require significant levels of upgrade and/or installation of technology and telecoms infrastructure. Telecommunications diversity needs to be added at all but two venues."
The report added that "a level of risk does arise from the overall lack of comparable event hosting experience across the venues, cities and relevant local authorities", seeing it lag significantly behind its rivals.
Dick Spring, Chairman Ireland 2023 Bid Oversight Board, insisted it was "not the end of the road".
"There is nothing in the report which is insurmountable," he said.
"We absolutely believe Ireland can secure the tournament for 2023."
However, continuing uncertainty over Casement Park's redevelopment are likely to count against the Ireland bid.
A revised planning application was submitted in February with a reduced spectator capacity of around 34,000, with Ulster GAA hoping to finish construction of its new provincial ground in 2019.
However, there was a fresh setback in September when transport submissions for the stadium project were deemed "unacceptable" by the Stormont department tasked with deciding whether to grant planning permission.
Roads officials in the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) said "insufficient detail is available on transportation issues" and requested more information.
Transport assessments in four out of five scenarios outlined in the west Belfast plans were also considered "unacceptable".
Former Ireland international Trevor Ringland agreed all is not lost but said much hinges on Casement.
"We need to get Casement sorted, planning permission really need to be granted to make sure that box can be ticked.
"A Rugby World Cup in Ireland would be a fantastic experience. It's access to Europe would mean you would have full grounds. That is another aspect of the bid that will be considered."
The Irish bid was forced to fall back on the - currently mothballed - GAA ground after the collapse of plans for a £240m multi-sport stadium on the site of the Maze prison.
It would have seen a 38,000 seater arena for rugby, football and gaelic games at the Maze site on the outskirts of Lisburn, but in 2009, then Sports minister Gregory Campbell scrapped the plan, saying it did not enjoy sufficient political consensus.
Northern Ireland does not have a modern seated stadium with a 30,000-plus capacity.