World Cup 2030: ‘I deem Casement Park a security risk’ says councillor

A unionist councillor with long-standing footballing links has said he would consider Casement Park in west Belfast a potential security risk if it were selected to host World Cup games.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 11:55 am
An artist’s impression of a new Casement Park (named after Irish revolutionary Roger Casement, executed 1916)

Jim Rodgers, former chief scout and director of Glentoran, was speaking after the matter was raised in the Assembly yesterday.

SDLP MLA for South Belfast Matthew O’Toole said that in the event of a joint Ireland–UK bid to host the 2030 World Cup, “Casement Park will probably be the only stadium in Northern Ireland capable of hosting World Cup games”.

Sinn Fein minister Deirdre Hargey (whose Department for Communities includes responsibility for sports) replied: “You are right: Casement Park is the stadium that would advance that competition bid.”

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Casement Park in Belfast is still awaiting reconstruction

Casement Park GAA stadium is situated on the republican-dominated Falls Road in west Belfast.

It currently lies derelict but there have long been plans to turn it into a modern, high-capacity venue.

Windsor Park is thought to be out of the running to host any potential Wold Cup games because it lacks capacity.

After being re-designed and rebuilt in recent years, it has can host about 18,000 fans.

However, FIFA currently decrees that – at least for the upcoming 2026 cup in North America – the smallest stadiums capable of hosting games must have a capacity of 40,000.

It is unclear if even a re-built and expanded Casement Park would fit this criteria; at present the plans for a new stadium would take capacity up to 34,500.

But UUP councillor Jim Rodgers (also a long-time spectator at Northern Ireland matches) said there is also the additional dimension of security.

I don’t think it’d be a good idea whatsoever,” he told the News Letter.

He firstly feels that “there’s no need whatsoever” for a stadium of that size at Casement, and that “I can understand why the residents in the area have been expressing there disapproval”.

He added: “To me there are security issues. I just feel Casement is a non-starter... that’s to be regretted. But you really would be putting a great deal of pressure on the police, because you’d hope there’d be no problems or trouble, but I just don’t think that’d be the case.

“Basically, we still don’t have real peace in Belfast and Northern Ireland. The last thing you want is to see violence before or after a sports fixture... paramilitaries haven’t gone away, and you mustn’t lose sight of that. I just think there’d be a major security issue.”

The Amalgamation (the name given to the united collective of Northern Ireland supporters clubs) told the News Letter: “It’s our understanding that there is a minimum capacity requirement to enable stadia to host World Cup matches.

“That being the case, the suggestion appears to be that Casement Park would be the only stadium in Northern Ireland with the potential to host matches.”

Jim Boyce, former FIFA and Cliftonville official, told the News Letter that in his view the chances of NI hosting any World Cup games are “entirely remote” – though it could accommodate training and possibly conference meetings too.

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