NORTHERN Ireland stands to reap a lucrative economic windfall if the 2022 FIFA World Cup is moved away from Qatar, according to a confidential report seen by the Irish News.
London-based strategy and management consultancy Cornerstone Global Associates has produced a detailed document examining the readiness of England to stage the soccer showpiece should the current hosts voluntarily withdraw or are stripped from hosting it as a result of corruption allegations.
It suggests team training bases are likely to be held in Northern Ireland, raising the possibility of a global footballing power like Brazil or Argentina setting up camp in Belfast.
And it suggests Northern Ireland as a UK region "would have the greatest benefit after England" in terms of economic and political spin-offs.
The report says: "It is difficult to estimate the direct economic benefit for Northern Ireland being used as a training camp for participating teams.
"But it would include direct benefits to the tourism industry as well as indirect benefits through increased visitor numbers and, in the longer term, attracting foreign investment.
"Given that the next World Cup comes shortly after Brexit, Northern Ireland's role within the UK will be emphasised during the tournament and position it as an integral part of the UK.
"And should the political will exist, a 2022 tournament in England can be utilised by Northern Ireland to portray it as an unique part of the UK with a land border with the EU, positioning it as an attractive investment destination."
Cornerstone Global Associates also has offices in Dubai, Washington DC and Singapore, and among its associates is Co Down-born Paul Tweed, who is recognised as one of the world’s leading libel lawyers, and much of whose work is currently focused on the Middle East and Gulf states.
Qatar has been lambasted for its continued exploitation of migrant workers building facilities for the 2022 tournament and inadequate reforms, despite claiming to have drastically improved conditions in the country.
Yet it is still deemed highly unlikely that it will be stripped of the right to host the World Cup, despite the awarding of the tournament in 2010 coming amid allegations of bribery and corruption during the bidding process, and at a time when FIFA (and its now-departed chief executive Sepp Blatter) was mired in controversy of its own.
However, there is a precedent of a host country change. Columbia was due to stage the 1986 World Cup, but pulled out in 1983 citing economic difficulties, and Mexico stepped in at short notice.
The Cornerstone report suggests that England will have 17 tournament-ready (minimum 40,000 capacity) stadia in 12 cities by 2022, and the required infrastructure to complete any outstanding work in the next three-and-a-half years will create up to 60,000 jobs in construction, hospitality and tourism.