Yesterday’s announcement of an additional €65 million in funding for sport as part of a package to counter the impact of COVID-19 is welcome and has been greeted enthusiastically across the sporting landscape.
The money will be distributed through Sport Ireland across five key pillars that should touch on every aspect of sport from the biggest of our field sports who have taken the hardest hit in financial loss of revenues to the clubs and smaller sports for whom closure and the prevention of any material form of social fundraising has been a material blow.
When a larger amount was distributed last year, at the height of fears over the impact of the virus and associated lockdowns, it gave sport the confidence to carry on, to look to the horizon and in some cases to gather up the courage to survive.
Without it the wasteland of what had been up to that point a thriving and diverse sporting infrastructure would have been too bleak to bear.
Other sectors, including within the remit of the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media have pressed loudly for similar levels of support but few have had the structure and the collaborative nature that has grown strong in irish sport over the past ten years.
Sport Ireland deserves significant credit for that, acting as an honest broker and encouraging greater levels of skill and governance across the board.
The sporting bodies themselves have more often than not done the right thing and the coming together of the GAA, IRFU and FAI under the Chairmanship of Martin Murphy to produce the evidence that enabled a return of fans to stadia is something we will look back on over time as being best in class.
Government is not a disembodied independent entity that acts in its own interests. It is our Government and it acts in the interest of those who have given it the power to do so.
It is also though a collection of human beings with the same triggers and fears over how their actions will be seen.
‘Evidence based’ action is a buzzword in Government circles, giving confidence as well as cover for decision making.
The work done by individual sporting bodies, as well as Sport Ireland and the Federation of Irish Sport in producing evidence that investment in sport is a winner on many different levels has been the backdrop to the way that sport has been treated through the last eighteen months.
It was built as well on the work that went into the National Sports Policy and having a robust pathway on what that investment would deliver.
The next step on that path is in next week’s budget.
The timing of yesterday’s announcement holds the potential danger that some will see sport as having been well treated and therefore being able to give something back in stalling the level of progressive investment needed to maintain the gains towards 2027 and the end of the current ten year cycle.
We know that Department officials will fight against that idea but we need a win, not an honourable defeat or a draw.
The continued uplift of funding for sport works on so many levels from mental and physical wellbeing to economic generation and a virtuous circle of performance in sporting and business terms.
We may have stones thrown to say that sport gets too much but the reality is that it touches in a positive way on almost the entire population.
It is too important to give ground, even in the face of compelling argument for alternative channels of investment need.
Government has done well by sport. But like in the games and activities it is backing, you are only as good as your last performance.
We need the next financial game for Government and Sport to be played as well as the recent ones, and to result in a win once more.
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