UK-Ireland World Cup bid 2030 could help strengthen the Union

The proposed UK-Ireland 2030 World Cup is being seized on as an opportunity to showcase the Union, The Telegraph understands, with ministers planning a "proper pan bid" that will "show the power of us working together".

The planned bid will involve the football associations from each of the UK’s four nations, as well as the Irish Football Association, with proposals for matches to be played in each part of the country.

Officials from each nation and Ireland have been in talks over the move and the search is now on for a figure to publicly lead the bid, as Lord Coe, the former athlete, successfully led London’s bid for the 2012 Olympics.

While government figures insisted that plans for the UK to host the tournament with Ireland amount to far more than a "union project", multiple sources said there was an acknowledgement that the process could help to dampen the independence movement in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, is not now expected to attempt to call an independence referendum until at least 2023, and FIFA is expected to decide on a location for the 2030 tournament in 2024.

In meetings about plans to hold the Union together, ministers have privately referred to the "power of sport" in strengthening ties between the nations.

During the 2019 election Boris Johnson pledged to spend £550 million extra on grassroots football in a bid to bring the 2030 World Cup to the UK, and sources confirmed that the money would be spent in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister will use a speech on "levelling up" the country to set out plans to support local sports teams, including £25 million for new grassroots sports facilities, equivalent to 50 artificial pitches.

Dan Rosenfield, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, is closely involved in plans for the proposed bid, which would require seeing off a rival European attempt by Spain and Portugal to host the tournament.

A Government source said: "It will be a proper pan bid. It will be very much us all coming together and putting on a fantastic tournament for the whole world. I think it will show the power of us working together."

But insisting that the bid did not simply amount to a "union project", the source said: "It is a fantastic opportunity for us all to come together and deliver."

Spain and Portugal confirmed their joint bid last year.

The UK and Ireland have since embarked on a charm offensive to convince other European countries to back their bid.

One source said that the countries were in a "good position" with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) after Mr Johnson’s fierce reaction to plans for a controversial breakaway European Super League.

All of the English clubs associated with the plan withdrew, but the Spanish teams Barcelona and Real Madrid continue to support the proposed competition.

Last month, Mr Rosenfield drew controversy for striking a deal to allow football VIPs to attend the Euro 2020 final on Sunday without quarantining.

The Government faced a backlash from senior Tory MPs over the decision to exempt UEFA officials, politicians and sponsors from having to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in the UK.

Up to 1,000 Italy fans were also given the opportunity to fly in but it is understood that only 500 have taken up the offer, along with less than half of UEFA VIPs.

The final was seen as a vital opportunity to showcase the UK’s ability to host major matches.

Mr Johnson has signed off on plans for the RAF’s Red Arrows to fly over Wembley Stadium on Sunday, while the national anthem is being played, displaying the colours of the Union Jack.

A source said that the UK-Ireland tournament would be a "really inclusive World Cup" that "embraces technology … making sure the World Cup is truly for the world."

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