Sport for Social Good 2019 Review

The 2019 Sport for Social Good Conference took place on July 18th as part of Ulster University’s celebrations around the staging of the 148th Open Championship.

This was the second annual conference in this area of immense societal and sporting interest and we were privileged once more to host some of the biggest brands and the brightest programmes that have been brought to life this year and created real impact in area of equality, inclusion, disadvantage, disability and the environment.

We kicked off the morning with Caolan Ward of Sport Northern Ireland who guided us through the consultation now taking place around the main funding body for sport in Northern Ireland’s planning for the next decade.

Supporting sport so that it can create the right environment for high performance but also for public health and wellbeing can be a tricky balancing act but it is one that has to be got right. Encouraging collaboration between different Government departmenst and sporting bodies is a key part of how they can amplify the impact of sport across a range of different areas.

That was an area we then explored with Kris Lindsay from the Irish Football Association who talked us through the Sport Uniting Communities project now in the second of a four year cycle and encompassing joint and shared programmes across football, rugby and gaelic games.

Funding to the tune of €1.4 million has been provided by the European Union and work is already reaping benefits from building out a sustainable support structure for clusters of clubs. the reach so far has been out to 4,500 players, volunteers and officials with a target over the lifetime of the campaign of 17,000.

The impact of business collaboration in sponsorship was centre stage for the next session where we had Gemma Bell of Bank of Ireland, Jane Lawrence of Vodafone and Paddy Carbery of Guinness alongside Richie Fagan of the Union Cup. This 45 team tournament focused on LGBT+ players from 15 countries across Europe took place in June but reached out to so many more than would otherwise have been the case through the amplification of the brands.

From painting the St James’s Gate in Rainbow colours and breaking a 200 year tradition to involving Rory Best as a powerful voice of inclusion and including sponsorship of the Emerald Warriors Gay Rugby team alongside thos of Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht, and to the staging of a Glitz Blitz involving hundreds of staff, this was a partnership that opened up a world previously poorly sevred by sport.

Each of the partners had to consider the potential backlash from within and without the LGBT+ Community and accusations of being ‘Gay for a Day’ but each of them encouraged throughout by the work of Onside Sponsorship came through in style and felt as though it was a partnership worth standing up for.

Throughout the morning we had four ‘knowledge bursts where we learned about the work of Liquid Therapy, a surf initiative for children with learning disabilities in Donegal funded by the Irish National Lottery; the Daily Mile backed by Ineos and delivered to 800 schools by Athletics Ireland; the work of the Northern Ireland Sports Forum and the importance of sport and golf as part of Ulster University’s commitment to students and the civic communities in which it operates it’s four campuses.

After the break we hosted Damien O’Neill from Allianz, who have backed us throughout in this initiative, and Anne Smyth from Electric Ireland. They spoke about the ways in which social impact was looked upon at corporate level and how it was measured in terms of enhancing people’s propensity to buy their services.

Doing the right thing is important to both organisations whether through a 27 year commitment to children playing Gaelic Games, supporting Darkness into light in the mental wellbeing area, backing Paralympics Ireland to help us all look beyond disability to the human beings behind the first impression and building foundations for greater participation of young girls and women in sport.

Perhaps one of the most striking take-outs from the day came with the presentation by Cormac O’DonnchU and Stephen Behan of the Social Impact research conducted by Na Fianna GAA Club as they fought to preserve their club grounds in Glasnevin.

Gut instinct on the impact of sport was backed up by robust research and attribution which revealed the value of Na Fianna’s impact as being in the region of €50 million over the course of 12 months.

The value in terms of improved health was put at €29.4 million with the value of Friendships, an area that is so often overlooked as a benefit of sport but which is a vital one to consider, given a value of €19.8 million and a sense of belonging put at €1.4 million.

There are some who would question putting such a high financial value on something so intangible but when you break down the inputs and realise that measurement is a key determinant for any form of investment, you begin to see the real impact that this survey can have.

You can download the full report and the workings behind it on the Na Fianna Club website.

For our final session on a day to remember we were privileged to be joined by the R&A, taking time out from organising the Open Championship ‘up the road’ to share the story of the Open Water initiative and its impact on the environment.

Over the course of an Open Championship, over 100,000 bottles of water would be consumed and discarded by players, officials and fans. They came in single-use plastic bottles because that was the easiest, cheapest and most convenient way.

The Open is always played at Links courses and so maintains a strong connection to the seas and oceans that surround our islands. Anders Jacobsen, the young but inspiring founder of the Bluewater Foundation showed us that 780 million single-use plastic bottles had been used from midnight to when he stood up to speak yesterday. A high proportion would ultimately find their way into the oceans and the vicious circle of a need for clean drinking water battling with the means of distributing it was something we all need to tackle.

In 2019 the Open banned all single-use plastics and created a stainless steel bottle which is being distributed free to 5,000 a day and sold for less than £5 to others with messaging and water refill station scattered around the course.

Social Good is something that can be encouraged by sport, business and Government but it can only truly be delivered by all of us as individuals.

We need to decide every day what we can do to make a difference.

In the first two years of Sport for Social Good we have brought together those on the island of Ireland that truly care about how we can use sport as a way of making society better, with leaders from the R&A and the Manchester United Foundation.

It is one of the most important initiatives we are involved with. it is made by possible by the continued support of members of the Sport for Business Community such as Allianz and our hosts for the day Ulster University.

We are looking forward already to see what next year will bring in terms of meaningful engagement between sport, business and the society in which we all live.


Downlaod a copy of our 2019 Sport for Social Good Report here.


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