General Election: Great Britain and Ireland World Cup bid could unify United Kingdom

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There wasn’t much native anticipation ahead of the 2012 Olympics. With typical cynicism, polls revealed Brits to be sceptical of hosting the world’s biggest sporting spectacle.

By the time the Olympic torch was extinguished, though, after Danny Boyle’s rousing opening ceremony, after Team GB’s record haul of 65 medals, after Super Sunday and all the rest, a sense of national pride had been reignited.

Of course, it’s still debatable whether the £9 billion spent on hosting the Olympics seven-and-a-half years ago was actually worth it. Working out the true value of such events is never easy, with the benefit frequently not felt for a number of years or never at all.

But nonetheless, the United Kingdom basked in something close to national unity. There was a feel-good factor to the London Olympics that even saw birth rates rise similar to the baby boom after the end of the Second World War.

A lot has changed since then. The discourse both in British politics now revolves around what divides us rather than what brings us together. If the 2012 Olympics were about welcoming the world to these shores, the years since then have been about keeping it out.

The future of the union is even under threat, with the four member nations of the not-so-United Kingdom all pulling in different directions and Brexit also severing the British Isles from the European continent.

There is a plan afoot to address this, though, and once again sport could play a central role. A joint-British and Irish bid for the 2030 World Cup is expected to be formulated over the coming months with the proposals already receiving backing from the Conservatives in their General Election manifesto.

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“The feasibility study is positive and there’s a sense the right thing to do is go forward,” Noel Mooney, general manager of the FAI revealed at the Euro 2020 draw in Bucharest earlier this month.

“This bid is out on the front foot and very well led by the English FA, who gave a very strong presentation. It’s a chance to get a really credible bid and hopefully win it. I’d be very surprised if there’s not a very credible bid from Great Britain and Ireland.”

In terms of infrastructure and facilities, the United Kingdom and Ireland could host a World Cup with little trouble. Most international football tournaments are preceded by massive construction projects (see the building work done in Qatar in preparation for the 2022 World Cup), but that wouldn’t be required on these shores.

Wembley, Tottenham’s new stadium, the Emirates Stadium, the London Stadium, Old Trafford, the Etihad Stadium, Anfield, Hampden Park, the Aviva Stadium, St James’ Park and the Principality Stadium would all be capable of hosting World Cup fixtures, with a number of state-of-the-art training facilities already built to home teams.

Manchester City v Watford - FA Cup Final

From a supporter’s perspective, the UK’s rail and public transport network could certainly do with upgrading, but this is a country accustomed to moving hundreds of thousands of football fans on a weekly basis. Qatar plans on having 90,000 hotel rooms by the 2022 World Cup. London alone boasts close to 150,000 hotel rooms across the city.

But would a British and Irish World Cup in 2030 have the same unifying effect as the 2012 Olympics? Or has the national discourse beyond repair?

Is football too tribal for unity to be a byproduct?

After all, the whole country could unite behind a unified Team GB at the London Olympics. It would be a very different dynamic at a World Cup on home soil which could potentially see England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales face each other. Would Scotland, for instance, really be energised if England were to go all the way and lift the trophy for the first time since 1966?

BOA Olympic Legends Launch

2030 is a long way away. The United Kingdom could be a very different place by then. It might not even have four member nations by that time, but never underestimate sport, particularly football’s, capacity for setting the zeitgeist.

Even having something like a World Cup on home soil to look forward to might even lift the national spirit somewhat, although don’t count on that such is the depth of the political malaise in Britain right now.

The UK’s problems haven’t been produced in the time since the London Olympics. They were evident back in 2012, it’s just that two weeks of world class sporting spectacle masked them.

Football could do the same in 2030, even if it’s just for appearances.

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