Looking at The Sporting Year Ahead in 2020

The room was packed and there was a crackle of anticipation as over 100 members of the Sport for Business community gathered in the FAI Suite at the Aviva Stadium yesterday to hear about the wealth of events taking place in Irish Sport over the next twelve months.

Peter Sherrard, CEO of the Olympic Federation of Ireland and Miriam Malone of Paralympics Ireland outlined the scale and scope of preparations ahead of Tokyo 2020 with this year likely to see the largest ever athlete number taking part.

From rowing and boxing where we have achieved in recent games through to the Equestrian teams, swimmers, athletes, gymnasts, triathletes, fighters and the Women’s Hockey team, we will have over 110 participants heading for Japan and it was great to get the inside track on how much effort is going into ‘mowing the lawn’ in front of them so that they can concentrate on performance.

The overall budgets across both games will run to millions but it is being spent now in a more targetted and hopefully more rewarding fashion in terms of performance and medals in July, August and September.

They were joined by two of the principal sponsors helping to make that happen and expand on the understanding the general public has with our sporting stars.  Sinéad Moriarty of Circle K shared some of the activity they will be rolling out and revealed that so far 140 athletes registered with them had availed of enough fuel on their way to training sessions to drive them from here to Tokyo, and back again.

The Miles & Smiles campaign encourages customers to fuel that journey with their own loyalty programme and the campaign is backed up by striking advertising that references a Circle K garage in the background but puts the athlete front and centre stage.

Aidan McLaughlin outlined the reasons why Indeed chose the Olympic Federation as a medium for its own internal engagement and external promotion after detailed research into which of many sporting opportunities would resonate best.

The recruitment specialists employ 1,600 staff in Ireland and 10,000 around the world and we will shortly reveal the first of some striking online content they are producing with their ambassadors.

We were delighted to announce yesterday that indeed would be supporting our own extensive coverage of the commercial stories behind the Games this year.

It is amazing to reflect that it is less than three years since a night of drama and theatre in the Conrad Hotel saw new leadership emerge that brought the Olympic movement in Ireland back from a very dark place after the scandals in governance that emerged during and after the Rio Games.  To think then that we could be in a position to talk with such positivity about the Games within one cycle would have stretched credulity but here we are.

John Horan, President of the GAA joined us in the conversation for what proved to be a very personal and moving reflection on the power of sport to affect lives as well as providing the most magnificent entertainment.

Being ‘blamed’ comes with the territory of sports administration, but aside from the occasional shout at the radio when hearing ‘Croke Park’ accused of one failing or another, Horan keeps calm and keeps making progress.

He was keen to point out the importance of having good people around ‘the office of the President’ and revealed that on his first week in the role he had appointed no fewer than 37 different committees, all amateur, all volunteer-driven, to make sure that the GAA was run by itself as a body rather than at the supposed whim of an individual.

We learned of his personal philosophy driven through a lifetime in education that encouraging children to find what works for them, whether that be football, hurling, soccer, rugby, any sport or any artistic endeavour was vital.

More important than forcing them down one path which makes huge sense and is obvious but is not often heard enough, or maybe reported enough as being the case, from the leader of our major sporting organisation with a presence in every corner of the land.

We asked about the ever-closer relationship between the GAA, Ladies Football and Camogie and heard the eminent sense of future relationships not being based on a takeover and a culling of committees but rather as being on a federal basis where the best of each sport can continue to thrive and make ts own decisions but backed up by being part of a larger entity of equality.

It was a half-hour chat that revealed much about the real benefit of co-operation across a multitude of areas.

The morning had started with a look behind the scenes at the Aer Lingus College Football Classic which Padraic O’Kane has engineered to come to Dublin in each of the next five years.

This August an incredible 35,000 fans will travel from the United States to watch Notre Dame and Navy go head to head in the Aviva Stadium the night before the All Ireland Football Final and how the ESPN Game Day programme would broadcast seven hours of live action coast to coast in the build-up and the game itself.

Next year it will be Illinois and Nebraska and this series will be epic in terms of both its appeal to sports fans but also in a business context.

We heard from Donal Moriarty of Aer Lingus about their commitment to supporting the Game and all that surrounds it and from Ger Gilroy of Off The Ball, a fellow fan of the sport and the latest partner to sign up to bringing knowledge and understanding to a burgeoning fan base here in Ireland.

Teneo, ur partners for the morning, presented some brilliant research which we will share on Monday around sports consumption, the way we watch and the motivation behind why we take part.  Great detail and real firepower for continuing to deepen and strengthen the bond between sport and business.

Through the morning too we heard from Bernard O’Byrne of Basketball Ireland about the European Small Nations Championships coming to the University of Limerick in July, closely followed by the World U19 Lacross Championships.  Michael Kennedy who had the vision to bid and win the hosting spoke with passion about the 20 countries participating this year and the huge buzz that it would generate around a sport with which we are less than familiar but which is now on the radar.

Hamish Adams was in similar bullish form about the Spar European Cross country Championships which will be coming to the Sport Ireland Campus in December and we also heard of the plans to mark the 20th anniversary of TG4’s sponsorship of the All Ireland Ladies Football Championship this year from Jackie Cahill of the LGFA.

As a bonus, we were also joined by Mona McSharry who shared her thoughts and hopes on qualifying for Tokyo and winning Ireland’s Fittest Family.  It was her first time in the Stadium, maybe she’ll be back at a big game in the future showing off a medal or two.

This is always a great way to get set for the year and the conversations were buzzing long after the microphones were turned down.  The one area we did not touch on in great detail was the Euro 2020 Championships but we will be reconvening the group for an in-depth look at that biggest of all the events in the coming weeks.  Our thanks to the FAI for hosting us yesterday in such a splendid and sporting arena.

Here is a flavour of the morning from those who shared on social media.

 

Image Credit: Brendan Moran, Sportsfile

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