Casement Park rebuild can be part of ambitious 2030 World Cup bid: Antrim chief Ciaran McCavana
THE dream of World Cup soccer games being staged at a new Casement Park should be considered as part of an audacious 2030 finals bid by the football associations of Britain and Ireland.
Antrim chairman Ciaran McCavana insists it would be inconceivable to think that the planned 34,000-capacity stadium rebuild would not be part of any successful World Cup finals bid – and believes the GAA would be open to the lofty idea.
Earlier this week, the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland officially announced their intentions to pitch to stage the greatest sports tournament in the world in nine years’ time.
McCavana is the first GAA official to propose that Casement Park – yet to turn its first sod after planning permission approval was recommended before Christmas – be part of the bid.
In the mid-Noughties, the Association opened Croke Park’s doors to soccer and rugby during renovation work of their Lansdowne Road home, although other sports have been hosted at the Jones’s Road stadium before Rule 42 was radically re-worded by Congress.
“At the end of the day, Casement isn’t just a document, it’s for all, not just Belfast but the wider population and I think if it was asked of the GAA - as we’ve already opened our doors to rugby and soccer when the Aviva Stadium was being built - I would imagine the Association would be very welcoming in helping bring the World Cup to the second city of Ireland.”
The new Casement Park will be the last of three stadia in Belfast – Windsor Park (soccer) and Ravenhill (rugby) – to be rebuilt and will boast the biggest capacity.
Plagued by planning issues since it initially closed its doors in 2013, the Stormont Executive has finally been able to recommend planning permission for the rebuild of the famous stadium.
The Antrim chief feels the GAA should aim high and become an integral part of the 2030 finals bid.
“It’s really unthinkable Belfast – Ireland’s second city - would be left out if the World Cup came to Ireland and Britain.
“You can imagine the economic benefits it would bring to the city and to see top-end athletes at a major tournament such as the World Cup would be fantastic, and I think would help break down barriers within the city itself.
“Windsor Park and Ravenhill mightn’t be big enough but Casement - as part of a three-stadia project - would work well in terms of capacity and might help get the bid over the line.”
The Naomh Éanna clubman added: “People shouldn’t underestimate what Casement Park can and will bring to the city. We should be aiming high. And if there is a bid it would be wrong to think that the west Belfast venue couldn’t play an important role and stage some games.
“It would be great for people who may never have been in a GAA ground before coming to the heart of west Belfast and enjoying a World Cup game at Casement Park and having a pint in the refurbished Casement Park social club.”
The FAI and Scottish FA launched a failed joint bid attempt to stage Euro 2008 while Irish rugby suffered a similar fate for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Meanwhile, the FAI is still hopeful of Dublin staging some Euro 2021 finals games this summer, although the south would need to see a reduction of COVID19 cases and an improvement in the vaccination programme by the end of April to convince Uefa of their ability to be one of the 12 host cities to host matches with a limited number of supporters.
On the issue of some fans being able to attend Euro 2021 games at the Aviva Stadium, new FAI CEO Jonathan Hill last week commented: “We have to be respectful of the current guidelines. There is clearly a challenge generally for anyone travelling into Ireland.
“We will need to review that very carefully in relation to significant numbers of fans in together, to congregate in one place together in the stadium and outside the stadium, so that is part of our discussion with Uefa.”