A delegation from UEFA has begun assessing the joint Scottish-Irish bid to hostthe 2008 European championship, beginning with an inspection of facilities in Ireland.
The group from football’s governing body visited Dublin yesterday to examine latest developments after reports that the ‘Celtic’ bid was in danger of collapse following the Irish government’s withdrawal of funding for a new purpose-built stadium.
The UEFA team visited the proposed site of the new stadiium and also inspected the 80,000-seater Croke Park stadium, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) whose rules ban ‘foreign sports’ – ie. football – at its grounds.
However, despite the problems associated with the campaign, UEFA director of communications Mike Lee refused to discoount the possibility of a a successful bid.
‘Our initial conclusion today is that this bid is very much alive and kicking, it is still in the race and competing strongly with the other bids,’ Lee confirmed.
‘We have been very impressed with the political commitment we have seen, not only from the Taoiseach (prime minister) and the national government but also from the Dublin city authorities,’ he added.
The bid sees Ireland providing two stadia along with six venues in Scotland, but at the moment only the smaller Lansdowne Road is definitely available and even that venue is in urgent need of refurbishment
‘The key issue from the Irish perspective is the stadia issue,’ said Brendan Menton, general secretary of the Football Association of Ireland.
‘But we went into this bid on the basis of three stadia in Dublin, two of which would be used for the tournament and that is still the position. We had assurances from the government that they are working very hard to resolve the stadia issue.’
Bid director John Henderson was also confident.
‘The UEFA team asked some searching questions but our bid is extremely robust and fulfils all the criteria that UEFA have laid out,’ he said.
‘Obviously, the issue of stadia was raised and the delegates were reassured that we can deliver what we have promised – great stadia and a great tournament.’
The Irish-Scots bid is one of seven candidates. Greece and Turkey have a joint bid, as do Austria and Switzerland and Bosnia and Croatia. Hungary and Russia have submitted independent bids, while Scandinavia through Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway, have submitted a four-way bid.