The draft programme for Government which will now go to each of the memberships of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party has been published in full and runs to a detailed and very substantial 137 pages.

Sport features for a page and a half of those as part of a section devoted to building stronger and safer communities.

The different objectives are split into three core areas of Participation, High Performance and Capacity and Governance.

It is unlikely that sport featured too much on the reasons behind the dalay to negotiations as many of the proposals seem fairly straightforward.

A number have been taken straight from the respective party manifestos including to “Encourage a low-stakes participation approach to underage sport and examine the impact that such an approach has in increasing participation and excellence.”

There are specific measures around identifying the prospect of hosting major events that might have been postponed as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, and a reference to a zero tolerance approach to racism and doping in sport.

Below we publish each of the elements that have been committed to as well as analysis on what they will mean across each of the three pillars.

Introduction

Across Government, we will take action to encourage and promote people’s personal health, wellbeing and physical activity. Sport and physical activity is central to that. During the pandemic, it was clear that running, cycling and walking became increasingly popular as people wanted to mind their physical and mental health. We will build on this. We will ensure that our interventions in sport complement our efforts to increase active travel and to improve public health and wellbeing.

Sport for Business Analysis

The changes that we have experienced in terms of how we view physical activity as being primarily something to be watched in terms of ‘sport’ to something that is ‘done’ is reflected in the emphasis on exercise, activity and wellbeing.  There is no mention in this introduction of the core field sports that for so long have defined what sport is seen as.

Participation

Gender, age, disability, ethnic and socio-economic background must not be barriers to participation.

We will:

• Target overall participation in sport to reach at least 60% of the population by 2027.
• Promote the value of physical activity as part of everyday life, adopting a life-long perspective underpinned by physical literacy.
• Place a strong emphasis on swimming, cycling, walking and running, which are especially suitable for all generations.
• Work with the Local Sport Partnerships to ensure greater roll out of successful initiatives such as ‘Go for Life Games’ or ‘Men on the Move’.
• Work with pre-schools, primary and secondary schools to improve the physical activity habits of all of our children and focus on the period between adolescence and young adulthood.
• Deliver a PE build and modernisation programme so that more schools have indoor facilities for PE and local communities have access and extra amenities available to them.
• Target resources at programmes that seek to address inequalities in sports participation, in particular socio-economic disadvantage. Prioritise increasing female participation in sport as participants, coaches, referees and administrators. We will continue to increase funding year on year for Sport Ireland’s Women in Sports programme.
• We will undertake a review of inclusiveness and participation in all funded sports to ensure that gender, ethnicity and culture are not a barrier to involvement.
• Mandate Sport Ireland to develop a programme of interventions to boost participation levels among people with disabilities.
• Encourage a low-stakes participation approach to underage sport and examine the impact that such an approach has in increasing participation and excellence.
• Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to racism and drugs in amateur and professional sport.

Sport for Business Analysis

A key element is the commitment to a PE Build and Modernisation programme.  There has been talk of using PE facilities to create more classroom space in an era of greater social distance requirements.  This is a snap back to the concept of PE as a ‘nice to have’ rather than as a core element of education.

Creating more indoor sports facilities will, if managed correctly between schools, local authorities and local clubs lead to greater efficiency and greater utilisation of resources.  It has the power to be transformational.

The encouragement of a ‘low-stakes’ participation approach to under age sport is taken directly from the Green Party Manifesto.  Some work has already been done in this regard with silent sidelines and less of an emphasis on competitive sport until later in a child’s development cycle.

‘Encourage’ is a phrase reading between the lines though that means it will not be at the highest level of priority and will be left in the main to individual sports and units.

 

High Performance

Sport can engender enormous national and local pride when our teams and athletes perform well. It is integral to our culture, identity and history. Our high performance athletes inspire the next generation, reinforcing high standards and motivating children in every community.

We will:

• Publish a High Performance strategy to define Ireland’s direction for at least 12 years, and review it every four years. The strategy will set clear and ambitious medal targets over three Olympic/Paralympic cycles.
• Facilitate efforts to explore business and philanthropic funding of high performance sport to complement State funding.
• Step up State funding to compete with other highly-successful countries of our size, and to facilitate a multi-cycle approach to high performance funding.
• Develop initiatives to increase the level of media coverage, nationally and locally, of women’s sport and attendance at women’s sport event.

We will complete the development of the Sport National Sports Campus at Abbotstown in line with Project Ireland 2040.

Sport for Business Analysis

The commitment to  multi-cycle funding is welcome and should give a grounding for similar consistency in the core funding that enables NGB’s to run their sport on a day-to day basis.

The willingness to step up funding is in line with the National Sport Policy, while the statement of intent around sponsorship and philanthropic funding is one that has a long term real benefit if it can be delivered.

Improved Capacity and Governance

The public rightly expects all Irish sporting bodies to exhibit strong leadership, ethics and governance throughout their ranks. It is important that all sporting organisations are accountable and that they employ modern working methods.

We will:

• Work with Sport Ireland to ensure all National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and Local Sports Partnerships (LSPs) adopt the Governance Code for the Community, Voluntary and Charity Sector by end 2021. The Code brings together good principles of governance for sport, recognising that there is no single model of good governance for the sector.
• Support sporting bodies receiving public funds to develop evaluation tools for their programmes and initiatives..
• Work with sporting clubs to increase volunteer training to focus on issues such as child welfare, disability awareness, first aid, sports administration and governance, and fundraising.
• Continue the Sports Capital Programme for clubs and local authority sportsgrounds and the Large Scale Sport Infrastructure Fund (LSSIF). We will prioritise sports capital investment in areas of historic low levels of participation and deprivation.
• Develop a Sports Technology Innovation fund to encourage research and development of interventions to support participation and excellence.
• Develop a strategy to identify, what type of major sporting events we can and should bid for (in particular those cancelled because of COVID-19), and how these events can be used to increase sporting participation, encourage domestic and international tourism and promote Ireland.

Sport for Business Analysis

The shutdown of sport may have given more time to focus on matters of governance and preparation for the hard stop of compliance with the necessary codes by the end of 2021.

A focus on evaluation and measurement is in line with existing best practice but with potential greater levels of separate funding.

Maintenance of the Sports Capital Funding will be welcome across clubs and at the larger level of the LSSIF.

The programme has made it through each of the three parliamentary parties and will now go to the wider membership ahead of approval by June 26th and the confirmation of a new Government within 24 hours of that date.

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