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A united Ireland aims for 2023 Rugby World Cup

December 5, 2014

DUBLIN (AP) — Both parts of Ireland have united to bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023, promising on Friday to rally Catholics and Protestants behind the event.

The Irish Rugby Football Union made the announcement alongside leaders of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom where only the Protestant majority plays rugby.

Underscoring the all-Ireland appeal of their plans, they spoke at a mainly Protestant school in the Northern Ireland city of Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of the island.

World Rugby plans to unveil the winner in mid-2017, with South Africa considered the early favorite.

The IRFU estimates the bid cost at 1.5 million euros ($1.85 million).

This is the first time that both administrations in Ireland have mounted a joint effort to host a major world tournament. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny promised their partnership would prove “impossible to resist.’”

The Protestant and Catholic leaders of Northern Ireland’s unity government, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, stood alongside Kenny at the launch, which highlighted the potential power of sports to bond divided communities.

Deputy First Minister McGuinness, a former commander of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, said support for the bid from Ireland’s Gaelic Athletic Association would be pivotal to its success.

The GAA, a pillar of Irish nationalism, traditionally has viewed rugby with hostility as a “foreign” British sport. From 2007 to 2010, while Lansdowne Road was being rebuilt, the GAA permitted its 82,000-seat Croke Park to be used by Ireland, which fields players from both sides of the border.

The GAA owns a majority of the larger stadiums in Ireland, most of which have never hosted a rugby match. Their use is also central to the bid.

“Rest assured, we will put together a robust and compelling bid to bring this sporting spectacle to Ireland,” McGuinness said. “This bid shows Ireland has the appetite to host an international sporting event on a scale never seen before in our history.”

Ireland is the Six Nations champion and ranked No. 3 in the world behind New Zealand and South Africa.

Ireland jointly hosted the 1991 World Cup alongside England, France, Scotland and Wales. At that time, Northern Ireland did not have its own government and was ruled directly by the British government in London.

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