Major Boost For Celtic Nations Euro 2020 Bid
On May 15th, as time was drawing to a close, the Celtic nations – composed of Ireland, Scotland and Wales – made it known to UEFA that they were interested in entering the race to host the 2020 European Championship. “We can confirm that we have had initial discussions on the principle of a joint bid with both Wales and the Republic of Ireland and have declared our interest to UEFA in order that we can fully explore the opportunity in more detail,” said the Scottish FA in a statement released to the press. A statement of interest is all that this is; the official bids won’t be made for another 18 months or so.
This isn’t the first time the Celtic countries have formed an alliance in an attempt to secure the European Championship. Some may remember with shame the fiasco that was Ireland and Scotland’s attempt at hosting Euro 2008. Despite being proclaimed as one of the best choices, Irish and Scottish football officials were shocked and dismayed to learn that not only did they fail to secure the competition, but their joint bid was never really a serious contender. Several reasons were behind this revelation, and perhaps reasons behind the addition of Wales in the current bid. Firstly, the issue of which Dublin stadiums were to be used was unresolved. The GAA refused to allow the use of Croke Park to host a foreign game, while the IRFU wanted a new stadium built-in exchange for the use of rugby’s Lansdowne Road. Fears were also raised by UEFA regarding the concentration of too many stadiums in one city – Glasgow held three of the required arenas and should several matches be scheduled there for the same day, security and control could have been a major issue. Further problems surrounding financial and political stability in Ireland gave organisers little choice but to move on to more suitable candidates.
Ten years after that failed attempt, things are looking better. The exclusion of the use of Croke Park was a stumbling block in 2002 yet the proceeding years have seen the playing of several international football games at the home of the GAA, and the temporary relaxation of Rule 42 (prohibiting foreign sports utilising GAA grounds) so as to allow Irish rugby a temporary home during the construction of their new stadium. Considering the potential advantages for the Gaelic organisation, one would think that a second relaxation of their ban might not be a difficult thing to negotiate.
In addition, the bid is made possible by issues surrounding their opponents. As of the May 15th deadline, only two other countries had put forward their name for contention – Turkey and Georgia. Turkish football is currently under intense scrutiny by Uefa following the match fixing scandal that rocked the federation. Fenerbache had been excluded from the Champions League this season, while their club chairman currently resides in jail, awaiting a verdict. Also affecting the Turks is the soaring chance of Istanbul being chosen to host the 2020 summer Olympics. Uefa’s President, Michel Platini, has warned that if Istanbul were to be awarded the Olympics, he wouldn’t vote for them. However, he needn’t worry. The International Olympic Committee had itself reminded the country of its rules – an Olympic host nation cannot hold another major sporting event in the same year. Speaking to the Press Association, a senior Uefa official commented on both situations, saying “this could be good news for Scotland, Wales and Ireland if they were to proceed with a bid.”
But the good news for the Irish, Scottish and of course the Welsh too, doesn’t just end there. In relation to the Georgian bid, the threat doesn’t seem to be overly great. Though the original plan had been to pursue a joint bid with fellow ex-Soviet country, Azerbaijan, the latter elected to focus their attention on the 2020 Olympics, and soon after it was announced that Georgia was now attempting a solo bid. However, hosting such major competitions on their own is beyond most countries. Ten stadia with a minimum of 30,000 seats and rising are required; Georgia’s biggest stadium seats 55,000 and is the only one to cross the 30,000 threshold until the Bantumi Stadium opens next year. With low average income and GDP and 34 per cent of the country living below the poverty line, it’s hard to see eight more suitable stadiums being constructed, especially when they will see minimal use once the Euros are over. In recent days, news has come through regarding Azerbaijan’s failed Olympics bid, and their intention to rebid for the Euros alongside Georgia once more. But considering they have only one 30,000 seater stadium at present, and a 65,000 arena planned for 2015, they would fall far short of Uefa’s requirements. The Celtic nations have everything in place already, bar the possibility of having to construct one extra stadium, Georgia/Azerbaijan would face a bill for at least six arenas.
Between the three countries that have banded together, there are seven possible stadiums that do already meet the criteria or could with a little upgrade. What could make or break this bid, just like the last time, is whether or not the GAA decides to play ball. Across the 32 counties, they have eleven stadiums above the 30,000 mark alone, many of which are far greater in size than, several more whose capacity could be increased with the addition of a few thousand more seats. Now perhaps only a few, Páirc Úi Chaoimh or Semple Stadium, for example, might be actually usable. But France 2016 will be using ten stadiums, and with the GAA’s help, the three countries could easily match this.
But are three host countries too much, taking up 3 automatic slots? Three joint hosts aren’t exactly unheard of but usually one or two countries band together to shoulder the burden. And with all of these stories being thrown around about the ‘Celtic nations’, one little state in the middle of all this must be feeling left out and a little angry. Four host countries are far too much, two would nearly be better. So what about a joint bid with Northern Ireland? After all, our footballing world has been quite bound up with theirs in the last number of years. Northern footballers are entitled to play for the Republic, and have done so time and time again, and not to the best reception north of the border. Perhaps it is time to reconcile and offer the hand of peace. Through showing off their players in our jersey on the island as a whole. Joking aside though, there is a small possibility that it might work. Again, we would need the GAA’s help to succeed, as well as some stadium renovation north and south of the border. I won’t be as naïve to suggest that this could do something to heal the tension that still exists on both sides of the border once and for all. But surely a joint hosting of an event of such magnitude could do something good for relations between our two states? And perhaps a joint effort at hosting the summer championships in 2020 could bring both football associations back on more cordial terms since the FAI broke away to form their own organisation south of the border all those decades ago. At the very least, it’ll ensure they qualify for the event, not to mention ourselves, so on that basis they might go for it. And even more unlikely but still possible, such a venture, were it to go well, might allow for thoughts of a united Irish football team to begin to swirl back to the surface once more.
Considering there are 18 months left until concrete bids are submitted to Uefa, we might as well use the time to consider our plans as well as our alternatives. Discussion isn’t concrete and it doesn’t do any harm. What we do know is that the Euros are between a country that can’t really afford to host, one that seems quite preoccupied with the Olympics and then our own band of merry suitors. With the deck so stacked in our favour, God help us if we can’t manage to win this time around.