63% see GAA as giving the most back to communities
SPORTS SENTIMENT INDEX:This year gave us as close as we are likely to get to a “home” Olympics and Paralympics, the highs and lows of Euro 2012, a dramatic Ryder Cup, a first hurling final draw in over 50 years, a famine-ending win for Donegal in football and two Irish provinces competing in a European Cup final. This was the year of major international sporting events and one where Irish interest was huge.
It is no surprise that the exploits of our athletes in London dominate our hearts and minds. This year was undoubtedly Katie Taylor’s and she is now firmly a national superstar. The year also saw Paralympic sport take centre stage and capture hearts and minds.
The 2012 Pembroke Communications Sports Sentiment Index looks forensically at the attitudes of Irish people towards sport, their sporting heroes, participation levels, the impact of sport on the Irish psyche and the contribution sport is making to our communities.
Our huge affection towards our London 2012 heroes shines though the results.
And the socio economic impact of sport is one of the most intriguing elements of this year’s survey. The GAA is still seen as the one sport which is contributing most to the social fabric of Irish society and local communities.
Sixty three per cent of Irish people believe the GAA is the sporting organisation most imbedded in communities and doing most to give something back. What is most surprising is not that the GAA topped the poll, but that it did so by such an emphatic margin. Soccer, which dominates sporting affections, polled only 12 per cent and rugby, which has seen a growth in popularity and recent successes, is on 13 per cent.
One obvious explanation may be that the GAA’s structure enshrines the very concept of the local team. You play for where you are from, whether it is your county or club. The stars in Croke Park today are playing for their club tomorrow.
Another factor highlighted by GAA historians such as Dr Paul Rouse and Mark Duncan, focuses on how the GAA’s infrastructural development drive post the 1971 McNamee Report built de facto community centres in towns and villages all over the country. These GAA clubhouses became far more than just a place to get changed.
The GAA club is also one of the few rural establishments that still stands, as pubs, post offices and Garda stations close. Outside of Dublin, the GAA’s influence is even more pertinent.
The growth of ladies football and camogie and female participation has also ensured the participation of females in GAA sports in massive numbers whilst creating an inclusive family-oriented association.
Soccer clubs, in certain areas, provide a focal point for the local population and this applies to League of Ireland, junior and schoolboy clubs. However, the transient nature of playing squads and the lack of raw local parish rivalry means soccer will never be what the GAA is in terms of its bond with the local population despite huge playing numbers and followers.
Similarly, rugby is emerging as a centre of the community in certain traditional GAA areas but it still remains behind with respect to its impact and geographical reach. Leinster and Munster and more recently Connacht have cultivated a club atmosphere and sense of occasion but it will take time to filter down.
One final explanation for the GAA’s positioning as the sport which contributes most to Irish society and communities is perhaps a triumph of PR and marketing. This image has been carefully cultivated as a point of difference. Sponsors from Guinness to Musgraves to AIB have spent heavily and the GAA themselves have highlighted the association’s links with its communities.
What the 2012 Sports Sentiment Index also underlined, is that Irish people are more active than ever before. Only 12 per cent of the population doesn’t exercise or take part in any sport, rising to 14 per cent for women.
While the nation is more active, the most noticeable trend is towards taking part to keep fit for recreational and fitness purposes rather than as part of organised competitive sport.
Seventy seven per cent play sport for fun or exercise to keep fit while only 22 per cent play competitively or as part of a team. This trend is a challenge to the main sports organisations but also provides opportunities.
Sports such as running, walking, cycling and swimmingare seeing huge increases in numbers participating as proven by the massive increase in interest in triathlons, half marathons and organised cycling events.
MICK O'KEEFEis managing director of Pembroke Communications.