Hosting major sporting events is normally a terrible idea for the country or city involved. Emmet Ryan says Leo Varadkar’s plan to bring Rugby World Cup 2023 to Ireland is an exception and it’s got nothing to do with goodwill.
This site is loathe to get into politics as we’re about sport but it’s impossible to discuss the motivation for hosting major world events without looking at political factors. Ego and populism are usually the major drivers but even if these are involved in Ireland’s bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it doesn’t make it a bad idea.
Want to host the Olympics? Good luck with avoiding going four or five times over the egregious initial budget you set. The World Cup or European Championships? By the time FIFA or UEFA get their ton of flesh and the protests end, you’ll regret it. Even the FIBA Basketball World Cup, EuroBasket, or Tournament of the Americas come with significant return on investment risks. Generally speaking, hosting a sporting event that lasts several weeks is an exceedingly terrible idea when the economic cost is taken into account.
The increasingly popular alternative is to go all-out for major single events. These are major games that will attract a crowd and can be run within largely existing infrastructure. The list of such viable games is short. The Champions League Final, the Europa Cup Final, and specific American Football games overseas are pretty much it. Even the Heineken Cup Final is far from a guarantee of success, although the cost-benefit situation makes it worth the gamble.
Yet somehow, some way, there is a tournament spread out over an interminable length that actually makes sense to host because it’s nowhere near as much of a gamble. The Rugby World Cup doesn’t require massive infrastructure investment, New Zealand ran it in a dozen stadia with only haf exceeding capacities of 30,000. Ireland already has close to that across the sporting spectrum and several of the grounds likely to be involved in the bid are already undergoing redevelopment.
In simple terms, that makes the added capital cost far lower and give a reasonable shot of the total costs coming in below the €192m spent on the 2011 tournament (naturally that’s pre-inflation as I can’t predict that for the next decade).
That’s before taking into account the probability of certain games being offered to the other home nations in return for their votes. Essentially Ireland may be able to run the event with just 8 stadia. Naturally a tournament wholly kept on the island would be preferable but for cost management and bid winning it’s an option that can’t be ignored.
This post is not meant to give the illusion that hosting a Rugby World Cup will be cheap but relative to the alternatives, which would stand to bring only marginally more in tourist income to the state, it’s a far more sensible target.
As someone used to being pessimistic about the impact of a big shiny sports event, it’s nice to view something ambitious as not being filled with economic peril. It’s a punt worth taking.
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