The Federation of Irish Sport, which represents 76 national governing bodies including the Irish Sailing Association countrywide, has launched its Manifesto for Irish Sport setting out a 5 Point Plan for the next Government if Ireland is to deliver on its sporting potential. The launch, which took place in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin 2, saw various speakers from across the sporting world, led by Federation President Bernard Brogan, urge all public representatives to recognise the importance of investing in sport.
In its Manifesto for Irish Sport, the Federation is calling for action on the following five points:
1. Development of a National Sport Strategy. The creation and implementation of a sports strategy would ensure joined-up thinking across Government departments and agencies in terms of sport's economic, social and health benefits. This should include ring-fenced funding for sport and the appointment of a sports "tsar" who would have overall responsibility for bringing stakeholders together, securing commitments and delivering on objectives.
2. Restoration of Sport Funding. There has been a 26 per cent reduction in funding levels for sport since 2008, from €57.2 million to €42.5 million in 20151. If Irish sport is to compete on the international stage, as well as increase participation and retention levels, funding levels must be restored to where they were before the country's economic collapse.
3. Extension of Tax Reliefs. It's time for sport to have a level playing field with other areas of the not-for-profit sector. While donors to sporting bodies can take advantage of tax reliefs for capital funding, this amounts to a fraction of the costs incurred by sporting organisations, and it is only fair that tax relief currently afforded to charities on minimum €250 donations in any year—which can apply to both current and capital spend—should also apply to sports bodies. This was a recommendation of the Commission on Taxation in 20092 and would bring Ireland into line with its international competitors such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
4. Provision of Two Hours' Mandatory PE Each Week. All the indicators point to an obesity epidemic in this country, yet according to the last research conducted, only ten per cent of post-primary students are meeting the minimum Department of Education & Skills' recommendation of two hours sport and physical activity in secondary schools each week3. Not only would making this a mandatory requirement greatly assist in enhancing the health and well-being of our young people, but it also has the potential to create a new generation of sporting leaders.
5. Leveraging Ireland's Sport Host Credentials. Ireland, with its state-of-the-art sporting facilities and venues, excellent transport links, track record of successfully hosting major international sports events and the "can do" and welcoming attitude of its people, has the potential to tap into a €450 billion sports tourism market4. The Federation strongly advocates the setting up of a national sports event bidding agency which would compete head-on with other countries in attracting significant international sporting events to our shores. We only have to look to Denmark, where a joint venture between sport and government—Sport Event Denmark—now sees the Danes win four out of every five sports bids5.
Bernard Brogan, President of the Federation of Irish Sport, is calling on all political parties to recognise the value of sport and to pledge support for its Manifesto for Irish Sport.
"Sport is a key part of what defines us and brings us together as communities, as counties, as provinces and as a country. When we play on the international stage, and the Irish flag is raised or the national anthem played, our sense of national pride and what we are capable of, soars. With just a little effort on behalf of Government in setting out a vision and strategy for where we want sport to go in this country, linked with the required resources and ongoing monitoring, we could do so much better. I urge all political parties and candidates to sign up to the commitments contained in our Manifesto for Irish Sport. Why should we as a country settle for second best—we must be in a position to compete, and to compete to win."
Mark Balcar, Director of Sports Think Tank in the UK, points to the development of a new Strategy for Sport in the UK that reflects current social, financial, attitudinal and technological realities, and that involves virtually every Government department. It has as key aims the importance of recognising the value of sport, of maximising participation and of creating a truly active nation—and he believes a similar approach could deliver significantly for Ireland:
"The power of sport is undeniable: sport can achieve a wide range of social, cultural and economic benefits for society. Our research in England, shows overwhelmingly that the sport sector wants strong Government leadership and a long-term sports strategy that joins up the many different interests within Government. This is crucial if the sport sector is to maximise the potential of sport to help deliver in critical areas of public policy, for everyone in society."
Newly-appointed chief executive of the Federation of Irish Sport, James Galvin, believes that with the right support, sport has the potential to pay a wide range of dividends:
"Sport supports 40,000 jobs in Ireland6, adds an extra €1.9 billion in household spending7 and over €1 billion in tourism receipts8. We know that 2.5 million people participate in sport every week here9 and that regular participation is the equivalent of being 14 years younger10. We undoubtedly have a great love of sport in this country and we should capitalise on this passion. By restoring funding levels, by playing fair in terms of tax reliefs, and by creating a dedicated sports event bidding agency, we can become real contenders. Why shouldn't we host major sporting events such as the European Cross-Country Championships or the IPC Swimming World Championships in Ireland? Let's at least give ourselves a sporting chance."