JEROME REILLY THE unsung heroes of Irish sport are to be honoured in a new national awards scheme, the Sunday Independent has learned.
The thousands of volunteers who give up their time for the love of the game will receive formal State recognition for the first time.
It's the nearest the Government has come to introducing a UK-style honours system here. Winners will be awarded gold, silver or bronze medals for work in fostering sport in the community.
A senior Government source said the new awards scheme could go before the cabinet for formal approval as early as next week.
All sports, including special Olympics, will be included in the National Volunteer Awards.
However, anyone who is paid for their services, excluding reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, will be excluded from the awards.
The move was signalled from the review of the implementation of the Agreed Programme for Government published last year.
"We will continue to encourage voluntarism in Irish sport and we will recognise, on a national platform, the contribution of individual local volunteers by setting up National Volunteer Awards on the lines of the Gaisce Awards," the review said.
The Irish Sports Council has recently set up a number of initiatives for individuals who give up their time to promote sport.
There are now extensive training programmes in the areas of management, human resources, governance, administration and strategic planning for volunteers in sports organisations.
Sports Minister John O'Donoghue has paid tribute to the work of volunteers in the past and urged thattheir contribution should be recognised.
"Increased funding for sports has helped clubs and organisations at national, regional and local level to provide a network of high-quality facilities to meet their particular needs. This is especially true at local level, where clubs of all codes, run by volunteers, remain the backbone of Irish sport."
Sport was now a complex and sophisticated sector, he said, with a demand for high standards in participation, competition and in the quality and range of facilities which underpin sports provision at all levels.