Feeling fit to invest in sport
Sport invariably loses out to more immediate priorities in the short term
MINISTER FOR Sport Michael Ring is not one for understatement, but his comments made in the immediate aftermath of the return of Ireland’s Olympic heroes drew particular attention.
In front of a live television audience at Dublin Airport, Mr Ring declared that “money spent on sport is better than putting it into hospitals, into consultants, into doctors – and the more we can get people participating in sport the better”. For that he was excoriated in some quarters by seemingly putting the interests of sports bodies ahead of sick patients.
Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said that sport funding “does not and will not ever come above funding for health services”.
For his part the Minister said he was wilfully misunderstood and dismissed the fuss as a “silly season story”.
He did not mean to suggest that in a straight fight for resources, sport would trump health. Instead, he said the future health of the country could be better protected if more money was put into sport.
He said exactly the same thing at the launch of the capital grants for sport in March and nobody paid any attention. By his reckoning he has been saying the same thing for 15 months since becoming Minister.
Given the prominence of our Olympic and Paralympic athletes and the visible benefits of sports facilities in communities, it will come as a surprise to many people to realise how little Government money is spent on sport.
In the Celtic Tiger years, huge money was put into sports infrastructure, in some cases as much as €600 million a year, leaving one of the few tangible legacies from the boom.
The money has dried up significantly since then. The total amount of grants this year is €77.1 million. That’s €47.1 million for the Irish Sports Council, which goes to fund all our elite athletes and general coaching programmes, and €30 million to fund all the capital projects such as swimming pools and gymnasiums.
By contrast the total health budget last year was €13.64 billion, so the sports budget is scarcely half of 1 per cent of that.
The Irish Sports Council reckons the Government grant underpins activity worth €1.8 billion in the economy every year, much of it provided by volunteers. Looked at on a euro-to-euro basis, there is hardly a cent of Government funding which provides a better return for the taxpayer.
The health benefits of an active lifestyle are proven. An Indecon report published two years ago about the benefits of sports funding chronicled an exhaustive list of positive outcomes associated with exercising.
These include preventing type 2 diabetes, halving the risk of coronary heart disease, reducing high blood pressure and also lessening the possibility of contracting illnesses such as osteoporosis, arthritis and lower back pain.