Northern Ireland

Belfast and the north missing out on an “enormous” opportunity with likely loss as host city for Euro 2028: former UEFA strategist

Possibility second city on the island may host games, with Cork and its stadium up to capacity

Contractors with excavators at Casement Park
Contractors are carrying clearing work at Casement Park (Liam McBurney/PA)

A former senior UEFA strategist believes Belfast and the rest of the north will miss out on a huge opportunity, both financially and political, with the likely loss of Euro 2028 .

Ian Mallon, now a sports business consultant in the south, is not sure whether it is fully appreciated here about the enormous impact of up to five games during such a tournament, with tens of thousands of fans streaming into the city over the course of a number of weeks.

The £106m financial boost estimated by consultants hired by the GAA is arguably deeply conservative, particularly if one of the top teams, such as Germany, the Netherlands or Spain, are based in the city. Double that number at least, Mr Mallon said.

Former UEFA strategist Ian Mallon
Former UEFA strategist Ian Mallon

“It is so unique for any city to be considered as a host venue for such a major tournament,” he said, adding that the mix of support, disinterest, and outright opposition to the use of Casement Park was, from a wider perspective, “completely irrational and ridiculous”.

“You can see why there might be tensions but really the ultimate aim should be showcasing a vibrant Northern Ireland and Belfast on the international stage, in the same way as The Open at Portrush, or even the UEFA Super Cup in 2021,” he said.

If Casement – and Belfast – is no longer in play, there may be an argument for a second venue on the island, though should that happen it is very unlikely to be Croke Park. UEFA officials have made clear, and all parties agree, no city will have, or could cope with, two venues, bar London.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork has the capacity to accommodate Euro 2028 games
Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork has the capacity to accommodate Euro 2028 games

However, Mr Mallon noted the recently revamped Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork easily has the capacity and, with some work, potentially Thomond Park in Limerick. Both could be upgraded to meet the strict UEFA specifications with some investment.

But it is much more likely, and easier, to just carve up games once thought destined for Belfast among each of the four host jurisdictions, Mr Mallon said, and that he adds “would be an enormous pity”.