Questions mark the site

 

SOCCER: "Alive and kicking and still in the race," is how Mike Lee, UEFA's director of communications, described the joint Irish/Scottish bid to host the 2008 European Championships yesterday.

Lee was part of a UEFA delegation that visited Abbotstown and Croke Park to inspect the facilities, or lack of them, offered by the Irish part of the bid, before meeting with the Taoiseach later in the afternoon.

If it wasn't quite D-Day for Irish/Scottish hopes - UEFA won't decide until December which of the seven bids is successful - confidence levels hardly soared as the delegation stood for 15 minutes and observed an empty field in north west Dublin, the "site" of Stadium Ireland, before going to Croke Park.

Peter McKenna, Croke Park Stadium director, greeted the visibly impressed delegation, before giving a guided tour of Europe's fourth largest sports arena.

Later in the day a Government spokesman confirmed the delegation was made aware of the GAA's rules and policy in regard to use of Croke Park - in other words, Lee and Co could look, but it didn't mean they could touch.

From there the men from UEFA travelled on to Government buildings to meet the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, John O'Donoghue, having to walk the final few yards after their coach, complete with darkened windows, got stuck in the gates at the entrance.

"They were very positive meetings," said David Taylor, the Scottish chairman of the bid committee, "they confirmed the commitment and confidence we expected from the Irish end."

"We received an assurance from the Government and a promise they are working hard to resolve the situation," said Brendan Menton, general secretary of the FAI in reference to the problems surrounding Stadium Ireland.

Menton said the Taoiseach had told the delegation he was confident the private sector would ride to the rescue of Stadium Ireland and that one party in particular was already "in the pipeline".

It later emerged property developer Noel Smyth said a national stadium could be built by a private consortium at Abbotstown.

The Taoiseach had also "reiterated that the GAA would be approached for permission to use Croke Park for Euro 2008".

Lansdowne Road, the third of the three venue options offered by the Irish section of the bid and one that doesn't meet UEFA specifications, was not part of the delegation's itinerary yesterday.

"The stadium is well known to UEFA," explained Menton, "and they are fully aware of the situation. We had to make the best use of the time available to us, so there was no time to visit Lansdowne.

"We have three months to create the certainty that UEFA require," added Menton, when asked about the difficulties relating to all three venues.

"There are question marks," admitted Lee, "they will have to be answered by the time we make our final decision in mid-December. What we have seen today is a very impressive stadium in Croke Park and in Stadium Ireland some very impressive plans. We received a clear statement from the Taoiseach regarding Stadium Ireland and we were impressed by the political commitment from his government."

The UEFA delegation, which has already visited three of the candidates - Austria/Switzerland, Russia and the four Nordic countries that have submitted a combined bid (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) - will inspect Scotland's facilities today before completing their tour in Hungary, Bosnia/Croatia and, finally, Greece/Turkey.