WE ARE a sports-mad nation but Ireland ranks just 68th in attracting international events, a major conference on sporting tourism has heard.
The European Sport Tourism Summit was told that Ireland is underachieving in the lucrative sector that is worth an estimated €450bn annually.
Sports tourism is growing at a rate of 14pc per annum, compared to a 5pc growth in the wider tourism area.
Mike Laflin of Sportcal, a leading expert in sport market intelligence, said Ireland was lagging behind countries like Andorra, Barbados and Tobago, in terms of the events it has attracted in the past six years.
He has recommended the establishment of a Government agency to devise a 10-year strategy and which would head up bidding for major global events.
"There is no question about Ireland's potential in sport tourism but at the moment it is not really registering at an international level," he said.
"The irony is that Ireland is one of the world's most passionate sporting nations, has an excellent infrastructure and is incredibly good at hospitality, yet it is underachieving."
Mr Laflin's advice echoes a call made last year by summit co-organiser and former Ireland rugby international Keith Wood, for a "national bid unit".
Meanwhile, the IRFU, the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive announced the appointment of an Oversight Board for Ireland's 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, chaired by former Tanaiste Dick Spring with Brian O'Driscoll as ambassador.
The event is estimated to attract 350,000 visitors and generate revenue of €800m.
"The emotion of sport is one of the great things we have but we need the other component parts in terms of a bid for the Rugby World Cup," Wood told the Herald.
The two-day summit, which is sponsored by Shannon Airport and Independent News and Media, also heard from leading figures from organising teams at the Rugby World Cup 2015, the Ryder Cup and the Grand Depart of the Tour de France to Yorkshire.