Monday 16 December 2019

Don't be afraid to ask our politicians to be better

John Greene

If those who spend their lives running after our politicians are to be believed - and we have no reason not to believe them as they have been told so by those very same politicians - then we will have a general election by the end of next month. The first momentous event in a year of momentous events.

The campaign has started. The courting of votes is under way. Every time you see a politician on television, read their comments in a newspaper or hear them on the radio, remember he or she is speaking directly to you. He or she wants your vote. Fine Gael and Labour would very much like to stay in power. Fianna Fáil would very much like to get back into power. A very large group of Independents would like to do a lot of things, either in or out of power. And Sinn Féin . . . well Sinn Féin would like to protect the reputation of Slab Murphy.

So now is as good a time as any to make a very important point: sport matters. Sport matters quite a lot.

In the coming weeks, you will hear a lot about health and education and social welfare. About hospital beds, pupil-teacher ratios and payments to pensioners and the unemployed. You will be dazzled by plans to build new roads, and metros. You will be promised free water and the abolition of the property tax. You will be told that the wealthy will have to start paying their way, or that the wealthy are paying their way but that new forms of innovative taxation will make this a fairer society for all. Poverty will be tackled once and for all; the next government will create more jobs and our young people who fled in their thousands will be able to come home. The River Shannon will be dredged. There will suddenly be room on the school bus for your child. The pothole at the bottom of your road will be filled in. Your new passport will arrive at your house weeks ahead of schedule.

All of this, and more, and sport will barely get a mention.

The thing is, if our politicians thought for one second that there were votes to be had by having meaningful policies around sport and physical activity, then meaningful policies is what we would get. Whether they would be implemented is another thing, but we could cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, let's ask ourselves a question: as a society, do we really care about sport? Yes, we watch any amount of it on TV. And yes, we volunteer in our tens of thousands. But do we really care enough to make it more important in the greater scheme of things?

Of course, it's right that we spend the lion's share of whatever money our country has on health, education, poverty and so on, but does anyone really think that we don't already spend enough on these? Is it not the case that we don't spend wisely? How much of the billions given to health, education and social welfare actually goes directly to where it's needed most, and how much goes straight into a bureaucratic black hole?

We must challenge our political parties to be better. This country is in the early stages of an obesity crisis that will ultimately cost us billions and billions of euro to deal with in years to come. There are many ways to tackle this impending crisis, but few are as effective as introducing and educating young children to the benefits of physical activity and then creating the structures to keep those children active through their teenage years and into adulthood.

Then there's mental and physical wellbeing, social inclusion, anti-bullying programmes, equal opportunity programmes . . . and so on. Sport has a role to play in all of these, and more. It's not just about the feelgood factor that the nation will enjoy during Euro 2016 and the Olympics. It must run deeper than that.

So do not be afraid to ask those looking for your vote what they are going to do about providing proper opportunities for young and old to be active in your area, and in your country. Ask them what they will do to get this nation healthy again. Do not feel guilty that in doing so you are neglecting the sick or the poor because you are not - you are thinking of today's sick and poor, and tomorrow's.

The challenge for each party, or for each independent, is to produce a policy which is an instrument of public good.

And the challenge for Renua Ireland, which published its first election manifesto last week, is to take a good hard look at it and ask: Was it really a good idea to ignore sport?

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