The Euro 2028 trophy on display in Nyon. Alamy Stock Photo

Gavin Cooney: Why co-hosting Euro 2028 is not a simple Good News Story

Football people across Ireland carry scars from the past and are sceptical of a State which continues to lavishly fund greyhound racing.

THE FAI HAVE been frustrated at the tone of the Irish media coverage around their successful bid to co-host Euro 2028, and their four hosting partners have been struck by the scepticism here too. 

It seems to be an uncomplicated tale for the rest of our bid partners. One English journalist at Tuesday’s announcement in Nyon hollered down the phone to his editor that this is a simple Good News Story.

But it’s not so straight forward here, because the scars are still raw to touch.

Irish football has been conditioned by two decades of corporate gaslighting, when blazers pointed to major events while telling the fans, volunteers and under-paid workers putting up with ramshackle infrastructure that all is, in fact, going great. The hosting of European Championships have been a beacon for this dissonance.

The FAI bid with Scotland to host Euro 2008 and put forward three stadia: one from which they were still banned and two that weren’t built. They then landed four games at the pan-continent Euro 2020 and promised that Dalymount Park would be rebuilt as its legacy. Dalymount’s planning permission was formally lodged last week. 

So forgive anyone involved the game who is curious as to how six Euros games at the Aviva will improve their lives on a weekly basis. 

I understand why the individuals in the bid are unhappy with the media coverage: they worked hard on it – the bid document ran to 900 pages – and this was a rare instance in which the administrators can lean on a result.

While the Irish/UK bid were ultimately unopposed, they would have beaten Turkey in a vote had the latter remained in the running. (The Irish/UK bid would have proved much more lucrative, while Uefa’s board members sat in too many traffic jams trying to leave this year’s Champions League final in Istanbul to vote for a return in 2028 if it could have been avoided.) 

Plus, that the FAI got to walk out of Nyon as co-hosts of Uefa’s biggest event four years after needing their loans to keep the organisation afloat is a sweet endorsement of collective progress. But there is a daunting amount of road left to travel. 

The FAI’s message after the bid success was that this will catalyse government investment into the game’s infrastructure across the country. 

“A number of senior people in the Government had said that if we were successful in hosting the Euros, it would be important to ensure facilities at grassroots and wider basis would be commensurate with us hosting a global event”, FAI CEO Jonathan Hill told us in Nyon. 

This begs a question. 

What kind of country needs six high-profile games held in a single stadium to prioritise investment in the country’s biggest participation sport? 

The kind of country, of course, which gave a €6.1 million legacy fund commitment to the FAI on the day its budget approved another €19 million over the next 12 months for greyhound racing, a dying sport that yields few social or health benefits. 

That €19 million is an increase of 4.4% on last year, and has been granted under the Horse and Greyhound Fund, which is overseen by the Department of Agriculture, rather than Sport. The Fund has been around since 2001, and initially ring-fenced betting tax income for horse racing and greyhound racing. The money is doled out on an 80/20 pro-rata basis, meaning greyhound racing is legally entitled to a boost anytime money is injected into horse racing via the Fund. 

The FAI have challenged that funding, saying they want to increase the betting tax to 3% and get a commensurate share in the increased windfall. The FAI’s proposal went public earlier this year and was met with fierce opposition, and the government claimed the Fund is not actually linked to the betting tax. 

That’s despite the fact the statute book says the two are linked, the figures being broadly similar year year, and a high-ranking civil servant telling the Oireachtas that the betting tax “forms part of the policy picture that supports the investment” into horse and greyhound racing. 

The government has remained slavishly committed to the part of the law stating the Fund must be divvied up on an 80/20 basis, however, meaning the money keeps on pouring into greyhound racing. 

In 2022, Irish taxpayers subsided greyhound racing to the tune of €13,402 per event, with an average attendance of 237 people at each of these events. The Irish Examiner revealed in May that Youghal racetrack – which has received €763,000 in funding since 2020 – had an average attendance of three people per meet across the first four months of 2023. It’s even losing against the traditional ‘one man and his dog’ ratio. 

Forget about the World Cup talk that this is rugby country, because at more than €4,000 per head, the State has declared the punter at Youghal greyhound stadium the most valued sports fan in the country. 

Greyhound racing doesn’t fall under the sports budget as it and horse racing have achieved the brilliantly deft linguistic success of being referred to as ‘industries’, whereas football must make do as being a sport, where State investment is paltry. Ireland spends 0.4% of GDP on sport, whereas the EU average is twice that. 

This week’s budget increased core funding for sports bodies, but there was nothing substantial in response to the FAI’s €893 million infrastructure plan. 

Perhaps the world’s gaze in 2028 will shame the government into addressing its skewed understanding of sport and its meagre funding of it. And if that’s the FAI’s play, then it may be a solid bet. 

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