New front opens in battle against cutbacks

 

JOINT SUBMISSION WHY IRISH SPORT MATTERS:IN WHAT was a unique and impressive display of Irish sporting solidarity, the importance of sustaining Government support for sport was highlighted in Dublin yesterday.

At a time when practically every facet of Irish society seems to be fighting further cuts in Government funding – including such fundamentals as health, education and social welfare – you might think sport would have a harder case to argue. Far from it.

“Why Irish Sport Matters”, yesterday’s joint submission to the Government on behalf of some 68 sporting bodies, not only presented an extremely convincing case for the continuation of such funding, but also emphasised exactly how far-reaching the benefits of sport can be in both social and economic terms.

Driving the submission are the heads of the big three – the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU – but also present were the heads of the Olympic Council of Ireland, the Paralympic Council, Special Olympics Ireland and the recently-formed Federation of Irish Sports, which represents the governing bodies of 65 of the smaller or lesser known Irish sports.

Their message was simple: Irish sport offers so much, and gives such a great return on any investment, that any further cuts in Government support would have “disastrous effects” (if that’s not too strong a phrase).

The 32-page submission, which has been several weeks in the works, was delivered to Minister for Sport Martin Cullen. A personal meeting with Cullen is scheduled for next week, while the submission is also being sent to every TD and Senator, along with a fact sheet outlining the potential impact of funding cuts on sport in their local area.

But with the growing realisation that the Government is going to have to make some big cuts somewhere, it remains to be seen how successful the submission can be.

Sarah O’Connor, chief executive of the Federation of Irish Sports, made reference to this in emphasising the submission was all about the protection of sports funding, not a call to increase it.

“While we fully recognise today’s unprecedented economic conditions in Ireland, it is our considered belief that Irish sport has already suffered a significant reduction in funding,” she said, “with the suspension of the Sports Capital Programme and an 11 per cent reduction in 2009 Irish Sports Council funding. The McCarthy report now recommends further cuts.

“We would stress that sport is not looking for additional funding, but rather to protect existing and promised investment. This includes capital developments, such as the proposed National Sports Campus at Abbotstown, which has been granted full planning permission and which was intended to be a cornerstone of Ireland’s programme in relation to the 2012 London Olympics.”

Total Government funding for sport in 2008 was €311 million. For 2009, that figure is €195 million – a cut of over €100 million. The Sports Capital Programme, which in recent years has provided between €50-80 million annually towards facilities, has been completely cut in 2009, and a cut of some €16 million from next year’s Irish Sports Council budget is being mooted.

FAI chief executive John Delaney outlined the consequences of these and other cuts. “The Government has supported sport well and it is very tempting in a downturn to make sport take the hit. But having come so far over the last years, it would be wrong now to undo all the hard work. And the money involved here is buttons really. And it’s also co-funded. Of the three million we get from the Sports Council, we put up another 12 million, and the GAA and IRFU do the same.”

Delaney also pointed to examples where the benefits of FAI projects go well beyond sport, such as the Ballymun soccer leagues, which have significantly reduced anti-social behaviour.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne spoke of the tangible dividends of sport, on top of those of health, community and social cohesion, estimating that sport contributes at least a 12-fold return on the funding put in by Government – and some 1.7 per cent of Ireland’s GDP.

“It has been well researched and documented that an Ireland-England rugby international contributes in excess of €80 million to the local Dublin economy.

“It is often overlooked that the funding the Government puts into the Sports Capital Programme has a huge return. If we take the construction of the new Aviva Stadium, the Government has contributed €191 million. During the construction period they will receive almost €150 million of that back in VAT and taxes. Over the three-year period since the project was begun, there has been up to 800 jobs created by the construction. When finished, the stadium has the potential to deliver up to 1,000 jobs on match days.”

Pat Hickey, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland, had some typically hard-hitting comments about prospective cutbacks.

“I’ve explained before how the London Olympics in 2012 are as close as we’ll ever get to a home Olympics. It will be an absolute disaster to our chances of performing well out there if there are any further cutbacks at this stage. If we do allow the cuts the happen, the reports from London will be abysmal. We’ll have a humiliating Games, and that will be a disaster for the country. The question will be asked then, how did we allow this to happen; too late by then.”

Hickey also highlighted the impact of some of the cutbacks to date, namely the decision not to progress with the Sports Campus at Abbotstown.

“Four years ago, when London got the Olympics, there were a lot of good ideas going around about how we might benefit, in terms of bringing countries here to train before the Games.

“After all this, not one country has registered with us to come and train in Ireland due to the poor facilities. The Sports Campus was an absolutely superb facility, and would have allowed us to offer some state-of-the-art sporting facilities, but as we know the plug has now been pulled on that.”

Copies of the complete submission to Government are available at www.irishsport.ie.

There are no further cuts in Irish Sports Council funding.

Sport remains a separate Government department.

The Sport Capital Programme is reinstated.

The National Sports Campus is developed.