€220m plan aims to increase participation
Success of new policy relies on Government sticking to investment promises, writes Cathal Dennehy
As blueprints go, this was as ambitious as any architect would dare to dream up, and the future of Irish sport - from grassroots to Olympic level - will likely depend on it becoming a reality.
The unveiling of the new National Sports Policy 2018-2027 yesterday brought with it some startling figures, which if followed through on will see the Government invest in Irish sport with a performance-minded chequebook rather than the relative pocket change of yesteryear.
The current annual investment of €111 million is set to double to €220 million over the next decade, with investment in high performance set to treble to €30 million.
Funding for the Women in Sport programme is set to double to €2m, with the creation of a €1m programme for disability sport through the deployment of Sport Inclusion Disability Officers in the 26 nationwide local sports partnerships.
But it wasn't just good news for the next generation as there will also be an allocation of €1.5m to support preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, one small step in closing the vast funding gap on comparable nations like New Zealand, which won 18 medals at the last Olympics to Ireland's two.
At the top end of the sporting spectrum, the increase will bring higher expectation, with the policy calling for more targeted funding to fewer sports that will deliver more Olympic and Paralympic medals funding now set to be provided on a multi-annual basis over Olympic cycles, rather than the current year-to-year approach which sees so many athletes cut adrift after one bad season.
But the policy isn't solely a medal mission and rightly so, given the lack of research to back up the claims that Olympic success has any long-lasting legacy of increased participation.
One key target of the policy is to increase participation in sport from 43pc to 50pc of the population, or an extra 260,000 people.
"Increasing participation is the cornerstone of this policy," said Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
"We want to see every citizen engaging regularly in some form of sport and physical activity, irrespective of their background or physical capabilities."
The overall objective is to "elevate Ireland to the top table globally for both participation in sport and high performance" and that goal is broken down into 57 actions which focus on improving sporting infrastructure, increasing participation and maximising performance by elite Irish sportspeople.
"The National Sports Policy 2018-2027 sees continued support of our high-performance athletes to keep on inspiring the generations that follow after them in their particular sport," said Brendan Griffin, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport.
"The benefits of sport and physical activity to our population are clear and sport is a valuable asset to communities across the country."