The Federation of Irish Sport held its first annual conference at the Guinness Storehouse on Tuesday, attracting an audience of over 60 sports governing bodies, participants, businesses and regulators. It used the event as a platform to launch a new strategic plan for the body which has been in existence since 2002 and which will look to ‘provide a dynamic and effective voice for Irish Sport’ between now and 2017 in the next phase of its development.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Sir Keith Mills, a man instrumental in the securing and delivery of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and who has invested large sums of the personal wealth he garnered through the inception of ‘Air Miles’ into a variety of social ad business projects based around the principles of sport.
“We need to make a consistent, compelling case for the value of sport to the nation,” said Mills. “That applies in Ireland as much as in the UK and it is possible given the smaller scale of what you have in Ireland that the different parties who need to pull together can do so most effectively.”
“Government and Sport does tend towards working in silos and we have perhaps been historically poor at making the case for the overall benefit of sport.”
“The tendency, given that sport is naturally competitive, is to fight first for your own interests and then, if there is time and energy, for the bigger picture.”
“Unfortunately while this may deliver short term wins it delivers less effective outcomes in the longer term.”
“Working together means working better. Look at Manchester United in the Premier League. As one of the world’s leading sports brands it could look to break away in negotiating its own broadcast deals but recognises that competing in a stronger competition makes it a stronger business.”
Mills went on to point out how proving the value of sport with a social purpose opens up doors to community projects funded by the likes of Comic and Sport relief as well as to enhanced support from Government.
He spoke though of the difficulties of bringing sport together in the UK as part of a British Sports Marketing Bureau. The intention was to engage better with business ahead of a likely drop in central government funding post Rio 2016.
Perhaps the success in its first year of Sport for Business, which recognised that building support from business first, then from sport was the best way to start what is a continuing journey, may provide some effective pointers on how best to engage on a bigger stage.
Mills was followed on the platform by Alistair Gray, familiar through Irish Sport through his writing of the Genesis Report in 2002 and other work completed since then.
He also spoke of the inertia of cooperation between sports but of the value if this could be overcome.
“It is a long journey but one which is worth the effort,” he said highlighting Lionel Messi’s contention that it had taken him 14 years of purposeful practice to become an instant success.
He addressed the issues of high performance versus participation and stressed the need to build capacity and capability to grow both simultaneously.
There were valuable contributions from the Conference floor including from Tom O’Mahoney, Secretary General at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, who mounted a stout defence of Government and particularly Ministerial support for sport; and from Pauric Duffy of the GAA who committed his Association to working alongside others for a greater purpose as it does on a regular basis, often away from the public spotlight.
The Conference was supported by IPB Insurance and BHP Insurance as well as by Diageo and Coca Cola.
Tomorrow on Sport for Business: Interview with Sarah O’Connor, CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport on the development and the aims of the new Strategic Plan
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