Can Dublin be reinvented as sports hub?
As part of our REINVENTING DUBLIN series, IAN O'RIORDAN argues that our capital should be able to take its place among the great sporting cities of the world, but we’re not even out of the starting blocks
Some people might need reminding that Dublin once did, in all seriousness, consider bidding for the Olympics, mapping out a site down in the docklands, and promising to transform existing sporting facilities to help stage the greatest show on earth.
It was 1992, and Gay Mitchell, then Lord Mayor, in fact established several working groups to examine the necessary infrastructure, before being brought back down to earth by Pat Hickey, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, who warned him “we couldn’t even build the jacks”.
Now, 20 years on, as hard as it is to fathom, Dublin’s potential of ever hosting the Olympics seems further away than ever: when London was awarded the 2012 Olympics, our politicians jumped the gun once more, considering Dublin an ideal training base for teams wishing to acclimatise, familiarise, etc.
Again, that proved wishful thinking. Indeed UCD was trumpeted as a perfect training base, yet shortly afterwards dug up its running track, and hasn’t touched it since. No wonder the precious few teams that did come were, essentially, nobodies.
Truth is Dublin would still struggle to offer any proper Olympic venue, with just a few exceptions: Croke Park, its 82,300 capacity making it the fourth largest stadium in Europe, could host the football (provided the GAA give permission), and likewise the 51,700 all-seater Aviva Stadium, although both grounds were redeveloped without room for a running track – the pity there being both actually started life as athletics facilities.
The Aviva Stadium will host this season’s Heineken Cup final, and attracted the Europa League final two years ago, although again, the IRFU’s potential bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be dependent on the GAA allowing Croke Park to be used too, plus its other main GAA stadiums around the country. With no small irony, that final would probably end being played in Croke Park.
London used many existing facilities to host the Olympics, including the ExCel, Wembley Arena, and the O2 – to go with their spanking new velodrome, swimming arena, and of course Olympic Stadium.
Dublin could possibly do likewise, or at least use Dun Laoghaire as a sailing venue, and might even squeeze an event into the Dublin Convention Centre, although for its €380 million price tag, it so far only seems suitable for staging sporting awards, rather than sporting events.