Our commitment to sport is getting results
The government is determined to protect funding to sport, says minister Michael Ring
This year was another very successful year for Irish sport, with a range of memorable performances at amateur and professional levels, in individual and team events. We again saw numerous Irish successes on the international stage with 60 medals achieved at World and European level. The range of sports involved demonstrates the depth and breadth of sporting talent in Ireland.
Despite many challenges, Minister Varadkar and I are protecting funding to sport as best we can, in recognition of the many continued successes by our sportspeople and increasing participation levels.
I am pleased we managed to limit the reduction in funding to the Irish Sports Council to about three per cent for 2014. The ISC will receive over €42m in funding. This continued investment indicates the Government's commitment to sport.
The funding to the ISC, through my Department, will allow the ISC to continue to support our elite athletes through the High Performance Programme as they compete on the world stage.
The performance of Irish athletes internationally not only boosts the morale of the country itself but promotes our image internationally and draws tourism to Ireland from around the world.
The funding will also support the work of the National Governing Bodies of Sport and a wide range of programmes through the Local Sports Partnerships to increase participation rates. Some of the many highlights of the successful ISC programmes in 2013 include:
16,581 participants took part in the An Post/Irish Sports Council Cycle Series in five counties
Over 7, 000 people took part in the Irish Sports Council/Operation Transformation '5k Fun Run'
Over 12, 000 people took part in the Irish Sports Council/Operation Transformation 'National Walks'
Over 1,000 groups and clubs around Ireland participated in the Go For Life programmes
I want to ensure that all people are encouraged and given opportunities to participate in sport and to enjoy all the benefits that sport can bring through developing a healthy lifestyle which can in turn produce an economic dividend through reducing costs to the health sector.
I am glad that adult participation levels are continuing to increase as can be seen from the latest data available from the Irish Sport Monitor 2013 Half-year Report. The report shows a continuation of that trend, with active participation in sport increasing from 45 per cent to 47 per cent since 2011.
Nearly 90 per cent of the adult population are walking, playing sport or exercising at least once a week. Most people engage in these activities with sufficient intensity, often enough and for a long enough period to confer significant health benefits. The challenge for us now is to persuade those who are sedentary to make activity part of their daily lives through sport, walking, active commuting or whatever form suits their particular situation.
This report again demonstrates the increasingly important role sport plays in contributing to the health of our nation. The increasing levels of participation in sport suggest that the Government's policies on sport are working and that investing in sport is producing a real return. I will continue to do my utmost to support the development of a healthier society through participation in sport.
Sport played an important role in Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the EU during the first half of this year. The Irish Presidency focused on three main sport priorities -- dual careers for elite athletes, sustainable financing of sport and issues around protecting the integrity of sport, in particular anti-doping.
Since taking office, I have participated in five Sport Councils in Brussels as part of the wider Education, Youth, Culture and Sport configuration. I have actively engaged with my EU counterparts on topical sport issues at EU and national levels and the challenges affecting the integrity of sport such as anti-doping and match-fixing.
Under the Irish Presidency, I chaired the EU Sports Council in Brussels on May 17 which included a policy debate on the role of governments in combating the increased sophistication of doping in sport. In order to have a more free-flowing, interactive discussion than usual, I invited Travis Tygart [who led the investigation into the Lance Armstrong case], chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency to address the Council and used a different format than previous meetings.
I also hosted a high-level structured dialogue with the sports movement in advance of the Council meeting which Mr Tygart also participated in. This event was attended by EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, a number of EU sports ministers and key representatives of the sports movement including the International Cycling Union, European Olympic Committees, the World Anti-Doping Agency and EU Athletes. The dialogue focused on how governments and the sports movement can work in partnership to combat the increased sophistication of doping in sport.
I hosted an EU Conference on Sport Financing in Dublin in March. The Conference, organised jointly by my Department and the Irish Sports Council, was an EU Presidency event which was attended by representatives of key sports organisations across Europe.
The conference examined the critical challenges in financing sport -- particularly grassroots sports -- in a more sustainable way and featured many high-profile speakers.
I look forward to another successful year in 2014 and am delighted with the Government's continued support for sport, including the new round of the Sports Capital Programme of €40m which I have just announced. We will be accepting applications to the Programme in mid-January.
Michael Ring is Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport