The time has surely come to give ourselves a sporting chance
Published 11/10/2015 | 02:30
There was an irony in the fact that, on the day the latest round of sports capital grants were announced, the umbrella group for Irish sporting organisations published its wishlist ahead of the Budget.
This has now become an annual event in the Federation of Irish Sport's calendar and if the message hasn't changed much, neither has the frustration that it doesn't appear to be getting through.
The sports capital programme isn't universally popular in Irish sport because of the view held in some quarters that it is taking away from current spending - effectively from the actual cost of making opportunities for physical activity and exercise to the population as widely available as possible.
However, in its current guise, the programme should probably be seen for what it is, an instrument of public good. That being the case, there is no reason why we can't have the best of both worlds: regular rounds of capital grants, applied transparently and evenly (as is now the case); and a significant increase to match that spending to the newly set-up Sport Ireland, to be distributed among the national governing bodies and further afield. No reason, that is, except a failure of imagination higher up the chain than the department of sport.
There are five elements to the Federation's pre-Budget submission. There is nothing new in them, but rather they are variations on a theme because they neatly package what Irish sporting organisations are crying out for.
In the UK, work has commenced on a new sport strategy which will, when finished, reflect social and financial realities, take account of technological advances, and look at attitudes in society to sport and physical activity. Virtually every government department will play a role in its development.
Mark Balcar, who is director of Sports Think Thank in the UK, said at the launch of the Federation's manifesto in Dublin last week: "The power of sport is undeniable: sport can achieve a wide range of social, cultural and economic benefits for society. Our research in England, shows overwhelmingly that the sport sector wants strong Government leadership and a long-term sports strategy that joins up the many different interests within Government. This is crucial if the sport sector is to maximise the potential of sport to help deliver in critical areas of public policy, for everyone in society."
The five-point wishlist is: The development of a national sport strategy to bring government departments and relevant agencies together; the restoration of 2008 funding levels, from its current €42.5m to €57.2m; an extension of tax reliefs to donations towards day-to-day spending; a guarenteed two hours PE per week in the country's schools; and, making the most of the country's sporting facilities and improved infrastructure to host inernational events.
"Sport supports 40,000 jobs in Ireland, adds an extra €1.9 billion in household spending and over €1 billion in tourism receipts," said James Galvin, who has recently been appointed chief executive of the Federation of Irish Sport.
"We know that 2.5 million people participate in sport every week here and that regular participation is the equivalent of being 14 years younger. We undoubtedly have a great love of sport in this country and we should capitalise on this passion. By restoring funding levels, by playing fair in terms of tax reliefs, and by creating a dedicated sports event bidding agency, we can become real contenders. Why shouldn't we host major sporting events such as the European Cross-Country Championships or the IPC Swimming World Championships in Ireland? Let's at least give ourselves a sporting chance."
It's a perfectly reasonable position to take, and it would be nice to think that someone might listen.
Sunday Indo Sport