Irish hope united approach sparks 2023 success
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The support of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) for Ireland's bid to host the 2023 World Cup will resonate strongly round the world, Philip Browne Chief Executive of the IRFU told AFP in an interview.
The GAA, who according to reports could reap a financial windfall of 30 million euros ($37.5m, £34.8m), have provided eight of the 12 stadia on the Irish long list of venues to host World Cup matches, an unimaginable prospect at the turn of the century.
The GAA objected to what they termed 'garrison sports' (cricket, association football and rugby) created by the British who were the colonial power in Ireland till 1922 when southern Ireland became known as The Free State.
This antipathy to those sports was exacerbated when the Royal Irish Constabulary and its paramilitary wing the Auxiliaries shot dead 14 civilians and wounded 60 at Croke Park, the bastion of Gaelic Games, in Dublin on November 21, 1920.
However, Browne, who was instrumental in persuading the GAA to permit Ireland to play home rugby matches at Croke Park from 2007 whilst their Lansdowne Road ground was modernised, said there was no hesitation from the GAA about coming on board when he broached the subject of them backing the 2023 bid.
I recall my first conversation on the topic with Paraic Duffy [the Director General of the GAA] and telling him this is what we [the IRFU] are thinking," Browne told AFP by phone from Dublin.
"There was no hesitation on his part, he said it's for the country. The GAA have large stadia throughout the island, whether it be in the north or the West and in Cork and Kerry.
"This is not about a rugby experience; it is about an Irish experience.
"We are confident not only of our ability to host it but also to do it bloody well."
Browne said rugby in Ireland had shown itself to be a unifying force in difficult times.
The Irish rugby team, unlike their football counterparts, play as one team.
However, to avoid a potential backlash for the players from Ulster, the team sing two anthems at home matches.
"Rugby is a powerful unifier," he said. "It brings together people of different traditions and backgrounds regardless of the political problems.
"It heals divides. The GAA has embraced the situation and that has resonance round the world for the bid."
Browne, who has been in his present role since 1998 and seen revenue rise from 6 million euros a year to 80 million as the sport evolved from the amateur era to professional, said it marked another significant step in the development of the country.
"For the 2007 decision it just marked the maturity of the nation, a coming of age and the GAA felt it was the neighbourly thing to do," said Browne, a former world championship rowing competitor.
"Of course for some people in the GAA it was an emotive subject and they had a different point of view and we respect that. However, it put Croke Park and the GAA on the world map."
Ireland are one of three candidates bidding for the right to host the 2023 World Cup. Bid rivals South Africa and France have both staged the tournament before in 1995 and 2007 respectively.
The country which secures the hosting rights will be revealed in London on November 15.