The 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.

Over the coming days Sport for Business will publish a series looking at each of the fifteen areas in which contributions have been sought.

The closing date for making your views known has been extended to January 16th.  Details on the Consultation process and how to make a submission can be found here.

The Key Areas of interest and the Sport for Business views on each as they are published over the next week are as follows:

The Contribution of Sport

Questions for consideration

How can sport play a more effective role as part of the wider government strategies in the following areas?

  •   Combatting physical health conditions

Conn McCluskey, Anna Geary and Sibha Bhoja 20/7/2016There is a broad acceptance of the importance of the challenge facing us as a society in terms of obesity and physical health.  As sport has grown to fill more of a role in terms of our national identity and means of entertainment so too has the desire to watch rather than play, to sit rather than move, to become passive in sport rather than a participant.

Physical activity is only one element of health and weight management but it is an important one.  The National Physical Activity Plan published in 2016 has targeted a gradual reduction of one percentage point a year in the number of those taking no physical activity.  These are those most at risk from health problems arising from obesity and it is right to make that a priority.

The spending on sport and physical activity at Government level is funded in isolation to other budgets such as Health and Education and is often seen as competing for funds with those two major Departments.  This ‘silo’ thinking is a barrier to progress and fighting to have sport seen as a major preventative element as part of the health care system is perhaps the greatest challenge of a National Sports Policy.

The creation of Healthy Ireland and support for initiatives like Operation Transformation and Park Run are positive steps.

The biggest challenge in political terms though is that change in behaviour will not lead to visible, tangible results in terms of national health for a period of ten or more years, two full political cycles and the compelling need to channel money towards treatment rather than prevention of illness will always be seen as more immediate.

In terms of policy we believe it is important to link a ‘ring fenced’ percentage of future health budgets towards supporting preventative campaigns aimed at encouraging people to become more active, and that this should be set as a threshold figure, irrespective of how the Health budget itself might rise.

  •   Addressing mental health issues

tackle-your-feelingsThe growth in awareness and recognition of mental health issues in recent years has been substantial and led in part by the work of sporting bodies in making it “OK not to feel OK.”

Specific campaigns such as those led by the GAA and the Gaelic Players Association and IRUPA through it’s ‘Tackle Your Feelings’ programme have utilised the social and community reach of sport in a positive way to make it more acceptable for those in need to seek help.

Playing games together or simply becoming physically active can in themselves lead to a better mental outlook. Activities such as those encouraged by the FAI in terms of pilot programmes tackling young men with mental health issues to play and learn about issues together without any sense of stigma can be crucial in continuing to break down barriers.

Changing the language from mental illness to mental fitness and encouraging people to see issues within themselves as more universal rather than individual can be a major step forward.

A challenge will always be that the strength of an individual intervention will always be down primarily to the strength of the individual leading it.  Sport is a largely volunteer run activity in Ireland and placing additional responsibility there may be counter productive.

Building a network of learning and using local sports clubs and organisations through which to deliver it though is an attainable aspiration and one that will lead to a more positive national outlook in the longer term.

  •   Enhancing social inclusion and integration

Figures from the Irish Sports Monitor consistently show that the biggest challenges in terms of sport and activity lie in the lower social and economic categories.

Is sport seen as a luxury that needs to be paid for rather than a personal choice that can be done at little or no cost to an individual?

This comes down again to the challenge of sport as a largely volunteer led activity.  Engaged communities create their own dynamic to build sporting attitudes that suit their own needs.  In city centres that is a different mix entirely to rural communities.  Having space to play is at a premium in areas of high residential density and collaborative approaches to providing facilities that suit multiple sports and activities are vital.

Getting communities active is more important than the code they play or the equipment they use.  In this context the responsibility, and perhaps a greater level of funding needs to be directed towards local authorities to encourage sport rather than relying on individual sports who will, by nature, focus on themselves rather than the overall community.

  •   Contributing to economic growth

euro-2020Sport is already a major contributor to economic wellbeing.  Across Europe €1 in every €60 is either generated by or spent on sport in its many and varied forms.

I Ireland the Federation of Irish Sport estimates that almost €2 billion of household spending goes on sport and that it supports a minimum of 40,000 jobs.

Spending on Capital sports projects creates a direct injection of money into local economies, largely through construction and related services and investing in infrastructure also sets us up for enhanced positioning in terms of sports tourism and major event hosting.

Lessons from the success of bidding to host the Euro 2020 UEFA Football Championships and the 2017 Women’s rugby World Cup and U19 Basketball Championships can be used to bid for more events at European level, and to add fuel to the bid this year to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Those who benefit in economic terms from sport are many and varied, from tourism, through retail, betting and gaming through the media.  Calculating the value of sport in an irish context can be difficult but recognising its importance is much easier.

Join us for a morning of learning, networking and insight on the sporting year ahead and the sponsorship trends that will impact upon us on January 20th.  Reserve your place now.