We are fortunate that sport plays strong in the lives of our political leaders, just as it does in our society.
The idea of Boris Johnson or Joe Biden appearing in studio, on a pure sports talk show to speak about a wide range of sporting issues, off-script and openly, would be unthinkable in our neighbours on either side but that is exactly what happened on Tuesday night when Micheál Martin sat down on Off The Ball with Joe Molloy for an interview covering everything from PE in our schools to fans in our stadia and the impact that Covid has had on sport, as well as how we are looking to bounce back.
The interview ran for a full 40 minutes and can be watched back below but here are some of the highlights:
On a return to children’s and amateur sport:
“It was great that children were back on the playing pitches last week and adults will be next week. The reason for not getting children back at the same time as going back to school was down to their being in a different bubble. The problem is not so much the kids playing as the parents bringing and dropping and standing around. But we are driving on now and that is great.
On fans at matches:
“We are hoping to have fans back this summer.”
“We’re going to trial certainly a number of events. I know Jack Chambers pulled together a group from the IRFU, the FAI and GAA, a working group chaired by Martin Murphy of the Aviva Stadium. They drew up extensive protocols back in October and then the third wave came.”
“So they’re going to update that now. We’ve had Professor Mark Ferguson’s report on Antigen testing, we have the vaccinations.”
“So we will be trialling some events. I think you’re probably looking at July and the government is working up plans now and over the next number of weeks towards that end and also learning lessons from what’s happened in the UK and what’s happening in other jurisdictions to see how we can get fans back in in a safe way.”
“We will look at different options around vaccination versus non-vaccinated fans and evolve from there.”
On Indoor Sports and Swimming Pools:
“The indoor area is going to have to be next but the NPHET advice is clear to focus on outdoors. Once that is sorted we can concentrate on indoor sport. By July the majority of the public will have the first dose of vaccine.”
“We need to get the right protocols in place for indoor sport. We do get it that indoor sport has suffered enormously.”
On the equality of grants to Gaelic Players and one organisation to govern Gaelic Games
“We will be addressing that. We met the demands of what was needed by each of the Associations. It is a policy to equalise the funding that goes to male and female players. There is no excuse for different rates of expenses. You have to build up your capacity but that is what we are doing.
“I would like to see one organisation covering Men and Women and the funding being managed equally.”
On funding of individual athletes:
“I would be sympathetic to doing more for those who have the potential to become Olympians. In many instances, their entire lives are devoted to their sport. In some respects, they need more financial support before they reach the top than when they get there.”
On the funding of Greyhound Racing:
“This is an industry and a sector, important in terms of job creation as well as a sport, and that is the background to the Government funding. There is increased focus on the industry now, in terms of animal welfare, and we will be watching that. There are a lot of people about there for who Greyhound Racing is their sport.”
On PE in Schools:
“Structured PE at primary level has been historically problematic, and depended on teachers or on particular sports.”
“The tradition was, if you were more into sports, you got far more than your one hour a week. If you weren’t going to be playing on the school team, you were less lucky.”
“Physical education is essential for your mental well-being and your academic performance as well, and there is a lot of evidence out there that the more physically fit you are, the better you will do academically as well.”
“You are going to need [a designated PE teacher] at primary level,” Martin said. “To get the buy-in at schools and the consistency, and not just be dependent on one teacher, and if that teacher moves on then it falls down.”
“One of the most difficult challenges in education is dividing up that school day. We have a number of objectives ranging from science right across to the health and mental well-being of students.”
“We want schools to do well-being classes, we want schools to do more on mental health, and of course you have the core subjects then. The school day only allows for so much.”
On the Capital Sports programme:
“The hurdles can be intimidating. The need for license agreements can be complicated and there can be a challenge in having the expertise to get projects and applications up and running.”
On the League of Ireland:
“I remember Turners Cross as a tin shed, Government also built Tallaght Stadium but yes it can be upped. The model of soccer has changed. The funding underpinning it is difficult. There needs to be a sustained underpinning of football at grassroots.”
On Pay Per View Sport:
“My instincts are to protect the sporting events that are most important to us. There are challenges but there are certain events that are iconic that we should protect for ‘Sean Citizen, so to speak.”
“I don’t like the erosion of TV access. I believe in the punter on the ground having the chance to see these events on their terrestrial channels.”
“I am struck by what TG4 has done in terms of supporting sport that would not be appearing on Sky Sports.”
Great interview. Great to have political leadership willing to put sport first and to talk about it.
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