Children suffer from lack of PE facilities in our schools
UP to 75pc of schools are not in a position to provide facilities for physical education and are increasingly being forced to rely on outside sports organisations to come in and teach sports to children.
A report on 'Women in Sport' by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sports, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, published today, will show that, although private schools usually have PE classes, most publicly-funded schools do not have sports facilities.
And PE teachers are remarking that many school-going children are suffering from "movement illiteracy" - a total lack of motor skills - because of increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
The report also finds that the media do not cover women's sports to the same extent as men's, and that, unless the situation improves, sponsors will be reluctant to commit money to female sporting events because of a perceived "lack of return" in exposure.
"There is a major difficulty in providing physical education in the schools," Fine Gael TD Jimmy Deenihan said yesterday. "First of all, the facilities are not in the schools to carry out a programme, and in many cases the teachers are not confident to take classes in physical education.
"More schools are becoming dependent on one of the national organisations - like the GAA, FAI or IRFU - to come in and put a programme into the school and take the children for PE. Surveys show that 75pc of primary schools don't have any hall, and you can't have a PE programme without facilities."
He said that parents were also to blame. "The pressure isn't coming from parents, they don't see it as being generally important. Most of the PE taking place is taking place in private schools, which provide PE because they see the value of it. The parents who pay for their children to go to these schools are obviously demanding it."
The report finds that boys take part in sporting activities more frequently than girls but that a lack of finance, facilities, role models and policy are major obstacles to increasing women's involvement in sport at local and national level.
To raise the profile of sportswomen, the committee proposes establishing a female sports awards and forming a women's sports council to raise awareness and encourage young women to become involved in sport.
It also proposes allocating additional funding to an organisation which submits a programme to increase female involvement in any aspect of sport.
Raising the profile of the health benefits of sport must be a priority, the report says.
"Young children should be introduced to play and activities from a young age," Mr Deenihan said. "The incidence of osteoporosis among young women is increasing, and women who were in a physical fitness programme when younger, when they were developing their bone density, are less likely to suffer from it.
"As a population, we're becoming more obese and we are storing up medical problems for the future. Every child in the country has to go through the primary school system and they are not being exposed to physical activity and a broad range of physical education. If you want to influence people, you do it in the primary schools.
"PE teachers in the secondary system are remarking on the lack of fitness among boys and girls. They're not playing as much, and unless sport is organised for young people they won't do it."
The report recommends that the PE curriculum be reorganised, and that sport become more available to women and to youth groups.