The FAI and the Northern Ireland Football Association have unveiled their plan to mount a bid to stage the 2023 European U21 Championships.
We had suggested this week that it might, in fact, be two years earlier but with Slovenia and Hungary emerging as strong joint bidders for 2021 it will be two years after that Ireland puts itself in line to stage the second biggest international football tournament in Europe.
It is no small undertaking. The last staging in Poland in 2017 drew an aggregate attendance of 244,000 and an economic boost for the country of €20 Million.
An anticipated rise in the number of competing nations from 12 to 16 would make it even bigger but it is a measure of Ireland’s confidence on a global sporting stage that the announcement of the bid was warmly welcomed and not unexpected.
We learned from John Delaney yesterday that the original plan came from a conversation with IFA President David Martin at an underage tournament in Finland.
Between the two Associations, we will have hosted the Women’s and men’s U19 tournaments as well as the men’s U17 between 2017 and 2020, as well of course as four games in the main Euro 2020 tournament in Dublin.
This though will be the first time that the two have bid to co-host a tournament and both Delaney and his counterpart Patrick Nelson believe this will be a major plus in the eyes of UEFA.
The formal bid will be submitted to UEFA next year with a decision expected in early 2020.
While venues will be finalised as part of the bid process the Aviva Stadium, the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park, the redeveloped Dalymount Park, Ballymena Showgrounds, Tallaght Stadium and Turner’s Cross were all mentioned.
Dalymount will be finished in time but with a capacity of 6,000 which will require dispensation from UEFA to be considered. A similar nod has been given to San Marino as part of the Italian staging of the tournament in 2019.
The Irish Rugby Football Union has also confirmed that Thomond Park in Limerick and Kingspan Stadium in Belfast can also be used as potential venues in any bid.
Should the bid be successful the final will be staged at Windsor Park in what Delaney described as a ‘goodwill gesture’ based on the IFA having proposed the bid initially.
If successful, it is hoped that both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland would qualify as hosts for the 2023 Championship, though this will depend most likely on an extension of the number of teams involved.
Delaney explained that there was a proposal before the UEFA Executive meeting in Dublin later this month to align the three principal underage tournaments at U17, U19 and U21 to have a similar format and an expanded number.
“This is an historic announcement as it sees both the FAI and the Irish FA working together on a project which will bring significant benefits to Ireland – north and south.,” said Delaney yesterday.
“We believe that the unique nature of our bid makes it a compelling vision for both UEFA and the wider European football family.”
“Both Associations have a recent history of working together on various projects, including Third Level Football, Walking Football, and the introduction of the President’s Junior Cup. This joint bid further strengthens that level of co-operation and co-hosting the U-21 finals in 2023 will follow on from our hosting of the U-17 EUROs next summer and four games in EURO 2020 in Aviva Stadium.”
“Northern Ireland successfully hosted the 2017 UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship and will host the UEFA Under-19 Championship in 2020,” added Patrick Nelson, CEO of the Irish Football Association.
“We saw last year how a tournament can help inspire a generation to play football and I have no doubt that, if successful, 2023 would help grow the game at all levels.”
“We could not host a tournament of this scale on our own, therefore I am pleased that both Associations are working in partnership on this bid. I believe that together we can showcase the best of the game in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to the football world.”
The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland will meet at the Aviva Stadium on 15 November, with 3,000 fans traveling from the North and an anticipated crowd that already is in excess of 30,000.
Image Credit: Tommy Dickson, Inpho.ie