Forget another big stadium, put government money into local venues

Senator, Shane Cassell said we may need to build another marquee stadium if we are to succeed in our 2030 joint World Cup bid. But John Roycroft says we should refurbish what we have and create a legacy fund from any World Cup to develop our woeful League of Ireland infrastructure.  
Forget another big stadium, put government money into local venues

Turner's Cross back in 2019. What a great stadium it would be with some investment. Picture: NPHO/Oisin Keniry

IT'S a strange part of the Irish sporting narrative that every couple of years, someone calls for a 'state-of-the-art' stadium to be built so we can partake in a bid to host a soccer or rugby World Cup.

This week, it was the turn of Fianna Fáil senator Shane Cassells calling on junior minister Jack Chambers, who has responsibility for sport, to look into building a 'signature stadium' ahead of the probable joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup.

While images of 'Bertie Bowl' danced in our heads, the senator, speaking to the Select Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media, outlined the need for a new arena due to us “... been down this road before in terms of our failed bids with the Scots, for the UEFA championships and for the rugby World Cup."

Ageing Stadiums

The Government has committed the FAI to a possible five-association bid with their English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts to host the international showpiece event in nine years.

But Senator Cassells pointed out that by the time we'd be hosting the tournament our sporting infrastructure would have aged significantly and may be in need of replacement or in need of repair at least.

“In 2030, the Aviva’s is going to be 20-years-old, Croke Park is going to be 35-years-old," 

said the Meath representative.

While the senator has a valid point of the age effect on the capital's two main stadiums, the idea of building an entirely new stadium to compensate is an extraordinary leap in logic.

The Aviva Stadium in Dublin has a capacity of 52,000.
The Aviva Stadium in Dublin has a capacity of 52,000.

Ireland, due to our historic sporting/political rivalries, already has more stadiums per capita than any country in the world. Most are small by international standards but many regional grounds for the GAA have significant capacities. We have 38 arenas, across the sports, with capacities in excess of 10,000 spectators. Most of these are the GAA regional HQs but we also have the large stadiums of Croke Park, 83,000, Aviva, 52,000, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 69,000, Semple, 46,000, and the Gaelic Grounds with 44,000 to 50,000. All are of great credit to their organisations for developing but it's also accepted that all are empty for the majority of the year. Some only have a guaranteed capacity attendance if they host a concert.

 Celtic & Ireland Legends vs Manchester United Legends Celtic & Ireland's Colin Healy and Roy Keane of Manchester United at the  Liam Miller Tribute Match, Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2018. 	Picture: INPHO/James Crombie
 Celtic & Ireland Legends vs Manchester United Legends Celtic & Ireland's Colin Healy and Roy Keane of Manchester United at the  Liam Miller Tribute Match, Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2018. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Debate

Now to be fair to Senator Cassells, I think he is raising the idea of building a new stadium more to create a debate about taking the potential bid for the World Cup seriously and that a successful bid would indeed require a spanking new stadium if we don't raise up Croker and the Avia to the best international standards through refurbishment prior to 2030 coming around.

Of course, there are some sports fans that go abroad and see the spectacular new stadiums in the UK and Europe and wish we had them here too. But it is totally unrealistic for a nation that doesn't have a strong domestic league, in any of its sports, and with a population of just over six and half million on the entire island, building another huge arena.

I reckon most serious Irish sports fans do not expect us to build a new stadium and therefore would accept that we will need to invest in the two existing marquee stadiums to bring them up to the level required. 

Already the GAA have suggested a €63m investment in Croke Park, where some parts of the great edifice are already 30-years-old due to its staged construction over the years.

It may not be what Senator Cassells is looking to debate, but his suggestions about stadiums is another opportunity for the nation to look at how we use and resource our sporting infrastructure.

When will our sporting bodies ever be mature enough to pool their resources for the benefit of the whole community?

Country singer Garth Brooks on the skyline at Croke Park, Dublin,  for the announcement of his concerts at Croke Park. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie
Country singer Garth Brooks on the skyline at Croke Park, Dublin,  for the announcement of his concerts at Croke Park. Picture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Empty Arenas

We have the situations where a city like Limerick, with a metro population of 162,000, has a near 50,000 capacity GAA stadium and a near 30,000 capacity rugby arena in Thomond Park. Cork's Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment cost €100m, yet has only been full for Ed Sheeran and Roy Keane. 

While Corke Park stumbles along until the next cowboy concert comes along to quickly fill the coffers.

At this stage, it is probably too late for most towns and cities to pool their grounds together. But no future developments should be allowed without examining the sharing of infrastructure.

If we should go ahead with the shared 2030 bid, let us provide the money to upgrade the Dublin arenas to the required degree, fair enough. But how about spending an equal sum of money lifting up the standards of League of Ireland grounds across the country to some sort of a basic level. It could be framed as a legacy project from hosting a World Cup, maybe even funded in part from revenues garnered by the World Cup.

Demolition work taking place this summer at Dalymount Park in Dublin, home of Bohemians FC, as the Des Kelly Stand is taken down in preparation for the redevelopment. So much more infrastructure work is needed across the League of Ireland clubs. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Demolition work taking place this summer at Dalymount Park in Dublin, home of Bohemians FC, as the Des Kelly Stand is taken down in preparation for the redevelopment. So much more infrastructure work is needed across the League of Ireland clubs. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Bringing the likes of the Showgrounds, Dalymount Park, Oriel Park, Finn Park, and Turner's Cross, et al, into the 20th Century at least is what's really needed in sporting infrastructure here and a genuine legacy to the sport that is long overdue. The showcase stadiums are already here.

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