Sunday 18 February 2018

Axe must not fall on deserving GAA stars

Dermot Crowe

T here are nine million bicycles in Beijing, or so Katie Melua, the singer, told us and a report just out tells us that there are almost 1.7 million people in this country registered to sports clubs -- a kind of affirmation of our love of the sporting life.

It comes courtesy of the Irish Sports Council, which is, by any measure, underfunded. The vast majority of the 12,000 sports clubs, covering 64 sports and 1.7 million members, operate on a voluntary basis.

Irish people are happily active in sports ranging from those provided for over a century by GAA clubs to angling and to the more obscure and curious pursuits, like baton twirling. The latter has 21 clubs and 951 members even if you have no idea what it is they do. Trust me: it is not as easy as it looks.

Anyway, sport, and the whole point of the exercise, is rammed home in this report which comes at a time when funding is hardly flush and people are bending down to pick up every cent that drops on the floor. The priorities of what's important in life haven't changed but now more than ever they need to be fought for.

Sport's contribution to the economy, this report shows, is 1.4 per cent of GDP. The Exchequer also receives €149 for every €100 invested in sport by the State. Sport and sport-related activities support over 38,000 full-time jobs or over two per cent of the overall level of employment in Ireland. And the economic value of volunteering is put at between €322 million and €582 million annually

Based on these findings the Sports Council is of the not unwarranted view that the Government does not entirely grasp the value of Irish sport to our society and economy.

During the shallow boom times of the Celtic Tiger, one of the sectors often attracting attention for Government under-spending was health. That should have set the alarm bells ringing. At least as worrying was the revelation that spending on education during this time of record profits was near the foot of the OECD league.

In 2007, when Ireland was regarded as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we spent less than most others on education. If those areas were being neglected in prosperity, trying to get a Government to see the value of investing more in sport at a time of penury may be something of a vain pursuit.

But sport, as John Treacy of the Irish Sports Council states, is a "vital national resource which must be protected". The temptation to adopt the frugal approach, and to allow sport fend for itself, without much more than token investment from the State is obvious. This report is a final yell before Treacy runs screaming from the building brandishing his rejected report and reciting Auden's Funeral Blues.

GAA inter-county players who have had initially projected Government funding of €5million knocked back to €3.5million and then, for the last two years, just over €1million, are facing a possible elimination of that support before the year's end.

This would be an act of bewildering ignorance and stupidity, given what they put in, voluntarily, and the positive spin-offs of their efforts, economically, and for the form of the depressed nation. What a pleasant and worthwhile distraction from the bleak bleatings of Nama and the mind-boggling immorality of bankers and developers in multi-million debt to be able to appreciate the nation's fine hurlers and Gaelic footballers.

Mandarins, cut at our peril.

Sunday Independent

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