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Monday, 16 September, 2002, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
Uefa begin Celtic appraisal
Only gaelic games are permitted to be played in Croke Park under GAA rules
Croke Park in Dublin is the headquarters of the GAA
Despite mounting problems surrounding Ireland's contribution to the joint venture with Scotland to host the 2008 European championship, Uefa made positive noises on day one of their assessment in Dublin.

The delegation from European soccer's governing body was in the Irish capital examining facilities for the "Celtic bid".

The future of the proposition has been thrown into doubt by uncertainty over whether the Irish can provide two suitable stadia.

"Our initial conclusion is that this bid is very much alive and kicking, it is still in the race and competing strongly with the other bids," Uefa's director of communications Mike Lee said on Monday evening.

Earlier, the seven-strong Uefa team visited the proposed site of Stadium Ireland, a project now looking for substantial private sector backing after the Irish government said it could not build it with public money.

They inspected the 80,000-seater Croke Park stadium, home of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) whose rules ban "foreign sports" at its grounds.

Lansdowne Road, the antiquated 35,000-seat home for Ireland's national soccer and rugby teams was also seen, but is considered too small and spartan for Euro 2008 needs in its present form.

The Uefa officials later met Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and his sports minister, John O'Donoghue.

"Uefa want a guarantee from us that we will provide two stadia for the European championships in 2008, no more and no less than that. If we cannot, we will be honest about it," O'Donoghue said.

Bid director John Henderson was in confident mood.

"The Uefa team asked some searching questions but our bid is extremely robust and fulfils all the criteria that Uefa have laid out," he said.

"Obviously, the issue of stadia was raised and the delegates were reassured that we can deliver what we have promised - great stadia and a great tournament."

The Irish government has said it will appeal to the GAA, which runs traditional Irish sports such as Gaelic football and hurling, to relax its rules and allow Croke Park to be used on a one-off basis for the soccer tournament.

However, that would require a change of rules within the GAA, which would have to be voted for at the association's Congress.

At the last such gathering, delegates remained firmly in favour of maintaining the ban on "foreign" sports.

Despite the uncertainty over stadia, Lee said the Uefa team, who visit Scotland on Tuesday, were impressed by what they saw.

"We have been very impressed with the political commitment we have seen, not only from the Taoiseach (prime minister) and the national government but also from the Dublin city authorities," he said.

Scotland has pledged to provide six stadia for the bid and already has four in place - Parkhead, Ibrox and Hampden in Glasgow and Murrayfield - home of Scottish rugby in Edinburgh.

Murrayfield will be laid out as a football park for the first time when the delegates visit on Tuesday afternoon.

Aberdeen and Dundee hope to attract new stadium developments, while Edinburgh club Hibernian also hope to be involved in the process.

The deadline for resolving the stadia issue is 11 December, when final bid presentations must be made to Uefa.

Scottish sports minister Mike Watson
"I'm not concerned with the opposition"

Euro 2008 bid

Stadium Ireland blow

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