I am old enough to recall when former Minister of State for European Affairs and Lord Mayor of Dublin, Gay Mitchell, floated the idea of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Dublin. Yes, the Summer Olympics!
The year was 1992 and Barcelona had just staged a relatively successful Summer Games. Andrew Zimbalist's Circus Maximus provides a lovely summary of this and argues that part of the success of the Games was down to the funding model. The $11.5 billion cost (constant 2000 dollars) was 60% privately funded. Of the 40% that came from public funds, just 5% ($235 million) was sourced from Barcelona's city budget.
Mitchell's idea didn't gain much traction and Dublin never entered the race. This was before the start of the heady days of the Celtic Tiger. However, a seed had been planted.
By 2000 soccer was the focus. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) sounded out the Scottish Football Association (SFA), Irish Football Association and Football Association of Wales regarding the possibility of a four-way Celtic bid for Euro 2008.
By February 2002 Wales and Northern Ireland had opted not to continue. However, undeterred, the FAI and SFA made public that they intended to make a joint bid to host Euro 2008. Scotland would provide 7 venues and Ireland 3. By December 2002 UEFA’s National Teams Committee had visited all potential host countries and concluded that only four bids had the capability of organising the tournament. The Scotland–Republic of Ireland (joint bid) was not one of them.
The failure of this effort was predictable. At the time a story circulated that the UEFA delegation had been brought to three locations in Dublin. The first was a stadium that was to be knocked down and rebuilt (Lansdowne Road). The second was a venue that did not allow association football to be played in at the time (Croke Park). The third was a greenfield site that was to be developed and become the new national stadium (often referred to as the Bertie Bowl after then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern). This was never built.
The following year would bring some success with the arrival of the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. These Games were hosted in late June and held largely in Dublin. Further success would arrive in 2006 when Ireland and the K Club arguably held the biggest sporting event to date on these shores - the Ryder Cup.
Some compensation for the failed Euro 2008 bid gained when UEFA granted Dublin and the Aviva Stadium the right to host the 2011 Europa League Final. Portuguese club sides Porto and Braga met on the night, with former Manchester United striker Radamel Falcao scoring the winning goal. The Europa League Final will return to Dublin in 2024.
While the 2003, 2006 and 2011 events were successful and popular, Ireland was turning its attention to rugby. By summer 2013 it was widely reported that the island was to bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup. On the back of economic impact estimates of between €600 million and €800 million the public was almost unanimously behind the bid. Such support was mirrored in the Houses of the Oireachtas (parliament). In 2017 the Rugby World Cup Act passed breezed through the Irish parliament. There was hardly a dissenting voice. The few that did raise concerns need not have worried. Despite some optimism in the lead up to the bidding, Ireland was eliminated and finished behind South Africa and the winning bid made by France.
The country has not been discouraged by failure. The latest international hosting competition Ireland and Cork have entered is the America's Cup. The oldest international competition still operating in any sport may come to Ireland in 2024 if the bid is successful. While not on the scale of the Rugby World Cup, this would be a significant achievement for those behind the bid.
And those that hope to host an even bigger event don't have to wait too long. The journey is starting all over again. The joint England-Scotland-Wales-Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland Euro 2028 bid has been kicked off. While England, and maybe even Scotland, could host this alone, chances of success for Ireland (or more likely Dublin) are higher. Having missed out on Euro 2020 due to Covid, the Irish capital might finally get to host European Championship Finals matches.
That said, our record since Gay Mitchell's idea back in 1992, isn't great. I await the outcome in hope (as a football fan) not expectation.