Sport for Business Leadership Interview – Mary O’Connor

Mary O’Connor is the CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport, as well as one of the most successful Gaelic Games players of all time with five All Ireland Ladies Football titles and seven in Camogie for her native Cork as well as four All-Star Awards and two All Ireland Club titles.

Her position as a leader within the sporting environment is needed now more than ever before and she has been keeping in close touch with many of the National Governing Bodies

We sat down virtually with Mary this week to talk about sport, awards and more.

SfB: First off how are you doing?

MO’C: I’m fine thank God.  I’ve come back down to Cork since the Sport Ireland Campus and Sport HQ was closed and have been keeping in touch using technology.

SfB: We had to postpone the Irish Sport Industry awards this week.  What is the latest on them?

MO’C: We have hit pause but they will take place later in the year.  They are a hugely important way of recognising just how broad and important sport is as an industry.

All the entries we have received to date will be considered by our panel of judges as we get through this and we are keeping the public nomination categories open.

What could be a better way of getting out of our sense of gloom by reflecting back on the great campaigns and programmes that we have pulled together over the past year.

SfB: How tough is it at the moment for sporting bodies?

MO’C: It is of course so sad to see so many empty pitches and halls but we have to do what we can collectively and individually to combat this emergency and the action will return.

The financial side of keeping sport going will come into increasingly sharp focus over the coming weeks.

Revenues that would normally come from staging events and running coaching courses will now be on hold and it will become a real challenge to keep everything going behind the scenes at an appropriate level.

A lot of sports and a lot of kids will have been looking forward to Easter camps which have to be a major doubt now, and if that extends into the summer, then things will get tougher again.

I have been in touch with many of the Governing Bodies and they are each finding a way to get things done.  They will also be impacted by the likely postponement of AGM’s and other elements of Governance.

We will be on hand to help with advice in these areas and make sure that things keep going as best they can.

Even the work that you are doing in keeping the Sport for Business community aware of what is happening in our world is important.

SfB: Are we likely to see job losses?

MO’C: Nobody will want to consider that but in the research, we did last year with Investec we put the number of people that are involved in working in sport in Ireland at almost 40,000.

With so many other sectors in hospitality and elsewhere coming under immense pressure there is a knock-on impact that cannot be ignored.

What we will be looking at in every sport is how to mitigate against the fall in income and how to keep as many of our staff engaged in active employment for as long as possible.

Sport will be like every other sector looking at finding new ways of going about things.

SfB: What do you think might be some of the key milestones we can look forward to?

MO’C: We’ve never been here before with such rapidly changing circumstances. Sport is by its nature a social coming together and that is an enemy at the moment so we have to do our part.

Setting dates for a resumption of social engagement is impossible at present and we just have to heed the guidance of the Health professionals in terms of what we can and cannot do.

One of the times that will make it even more real for people will be the changing of the clocks and the lengthening of the evenings at the end of the month.  That’s a time when we so often burst out onto grass after the winter and for now, that won’t be possible.

SfB: How important is sport for society at a time like this

MO’C: In time we will have a vital part to play in inspiring the nation to get back to the way we were.

Sport is such an important part of people’s lives whether as parents, coaches, players or simply watching.  The last week and the weeks to come will show just how important it is.

Clubs across all codes and all over the country are doing a great job at spreading the message to their communities of how important it is to come together in spirit and stay apart in physical terms.

That is a major thing we can all do and sport has been shown to be standing up in the right way and at the right time.

Next Week’s Sport for Business Interviews will be with Jonny Madill of Sheridan Sports to give a London perspective and with John Gillick of AIG on the impact for sponsors.

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Image credit: Federation of Irish Sport

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