A working group has been set up by governments on both sides of the Irish border to lay the groundwork for a potential all-island bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
Ministers from Belfast and Dublin met in Armagh to discuss the now likely prospect of a joint pitch to stage the sport’s showpiece event.
Stormont sports minister Caral Ni Chuilin and tourism minister Arlene Foster held talks with counterparts in the Republic’s tourism and sports departments Leo Varadkar and Michael Ring.
Their agreed working group will be made up of the key bodies associated with preparing a bid and it will report back to both governments in a few months.
Ministers will then consider how to move forward to submit a formal application to host the tournament.
Minister Ni Chuilin said a lot of work was needed to get to that position.
“The island of Ireland has a lot to offer the global rugby family and there would be a lot of benefits to be gained by hosting such a prestigious event,” she said.
“The (Stormont) Executive is investing £110 million in upgrading stadia in Belfast which includes the redevelopment of Ravenhill (the home of Ulster Rugby).
“While we would have world class venues to host the Rugby World Cup, there is a lot of work required to get us into a position to make a successful bid.”
Mr Varadkar said Ireland had what it took to stage a successful world cup.
“Minister Ring and I were delighted to meet with ministers Foster and Ni Chuilin to discuss the possibility of making a formal bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup,” he said.
“It was a very useful meeting and we have now agreed to set up a working group to draw up the road map for our bid.
“It’s still very early days, but the four of us believe that Ireland has what it takes to host a cracking world cup.”
Mrs Foster added: “Attracting major international events is a key element of the Northern Ireland’s Programme for Government.
“As we already know, sport is an incredibly powerful sales tool that has the power to attract thousands of international visitors.
“Northern Ireland hosted the hugely successful Irish Open in 2012 and this year, La Grande Partenza or Big Start of the Giro d’Italia will take place in May.
“Hosting events such as this provides us with a tremendous opportunity to grow tourism, boost visitor spend, and stimulate the continued growth of the Northern Ireland economy.”
Mr Ring said the Rugby World Cup was potentially the biggest sporting event Ireland could stage.
“An event of this scale will not only have a great benefit for rugby but will also raise the profile of what sport can do for the country,” he said.
“We all witnessed the massive boost to the national mood that was provided by the London Olympics.
“The Rugby World Cup is probably the largest event we could ever host on our own on the island and I would hope it would have a similar impact here.
“Sport is a great unifier, it brings people together and large events like this can also bring about a great sense of pride.”