National Sports Policy – Financing Irish Sport

euro-money-sport-budgetThe Government has sought input from those with an interest in Irish Sport on how to frame a new national Sports policy for the next decade.  

This is the first time in 20 years that such a framework will be adopted at Government level and it is a crucial opportunity to put sport into its important context as part of overall Government thinking.

The Key Areas of interest and the Sport for Business views on each are as follows:

As there will always be competition for Government resources between different priorities, what is the most significant reason why sports funding should be maintained / increased?

The positive impact of sport and physical activity on the wellbeing of citizens and society makes it a key element in Government responsibility.

It may never be the most pressing of arguments but there is a long term good derived from a healthier nation that makes it just as important over time as any new hospital wing or school building programme.

How can funding for sport be optimised while keeping public sector objectives firmly central?

The amount spent on sport and physical activity at central Government level is very modest, representing less than one per cent of total spending on health and yet an integral part of how preventative health initiatives can be encouraged and delivered.

Looking beyond the sporting headlines of high wages at the elite end is imperative as this can otherwise colour the role that Government has to play in the overall sporting identity of the nation.

What would be the appropriate balance of Government funding between high performance and participation?

This is likely to differ from one sport to another and imposing a universal figure on all sports would likely satisfy very few in terms of their individual need.

There is a delicate balance between creating stars who will inspire and putting facilities and programmes in place that will support getting as many people active as possible.  That in itself will lead to a broader base from which the next generation of elite performers will emerge.

Get it right and this becomes a virtuous circle of improvement across both pillars

How can new sources of commercial investment into sport and/or philanthropic contributions to sport and sports bodies be encouraged? 

Money is often the key and a favourable tax incentive treatment of sponsorship that is geared towards, or incorporating strong elements of contributing towards particular area, be that children, social disadvantage or elsewhere could be effective.

Sectors such as insurance where there is no VAT charged cannot reclaim the VAT on sponsorship spending, adding a quarter to the actual cost of support.

Analysis in detail at a sectoral level could yield relatively low cost initiatives to the exchequer that could generate substantial percentage increase in the amounts of commercial support going into sport.

Charity status within sports clubs is another area that could encourage greater giving at local level from smaller businesses who if given a financial as well as emotional incentive could be persuaded to contribute more.

Philanthropy is an area that has been less well targeted by sport than by other sectors but which has a strong appeal in terms of reaching out to individuals to support areas in which many of their deepest community and sense of place memories will be founded.

Encouraging a programme whereby sporting bodies can develop their own skills in attracting philanthropic support would be a positive move.

Is it possible for some governing bodies, depending on size, to be self-sustaining?

Yes they can be self sustaining but if it is to be done on a purely commercial basis then the balance of what that sport contributes to a wider society will be knocked off kilter.

There is often a measure of frustration that Government money is spent within the major field sports which are best placed to attract commercial sponsorship.  The reality is though that these are also the best placed to deliver sporting programmes and outlets to get different groups more physically active.

By suggesting that this should all be funded out of other areas of commercially driven income would lead to those strengths at grassroots level withering and society being poorer for it.

Changing the language of financial investment from grants to payments, from handouts to service payments could see a better overall understanding of the kind of contribution that sports like the GAA, soccer and rugby make beyond the bright lights and the elite players.

In the case of smaller NGBs which are predominantly financed by public funding, would it be a more effective use of funds to provide shared supports for administration etc.?

Collaborative approaches will always work best in our opinion.  It is the basis on which we have built Sport for Business and plays to the fact that problems which often seem unique to one particular group or sport often have a lot more commonality than could be imagined.

The benefits in terms of shared costs over accommodation and business infrastructure at Sport HQ at the National Sports Campus show what can be saved and also what can be encouraged in terms of learning from the success of others.

At its heart sport is competitive but while that will always be the case in terms of what happens between the start and end of an event, it can sometimes be to the detriment of the game if that competition blinds people to the stronger mutual benefit of sharing whether in terms of facilities, expertise or services.

How can it be ensured that commercial revenue available to certain sports benefit the grassroots level of that sport?

Commercial revenues are based on commercial reward for those paying the money.  If societal good at grassroots level can be effectively promoted and proven to be part of that reward then so much the better.

Insisting though that this be the case on a regulated basis would be challenging and more likely seen as a barrier.

The exception could be as outlined above where beneficial tax treatment could be afforded to sponsorship investment that is seen to be benefitting areas of a support base or society that would otherwise be left behind.

Creating an environment where pilot programmes or experimental treatments could be encouraged will lead to greater innovation than would be the case in a more general change to the way that sponsorship and other commercial revenues are directed.

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