Over 300 leaders in sport gathered at the Edmund Burke Theatre in Trinity College yesterday for the 6th Annual Federation of Irish Sport Conference.

We were drawn by the prospect of hearing how New Zealand, with similar size, population and sporting culture, has stepped up through the gears to win 14 medals at the Rio Olympic Games.

The CEO of Sport New Zealand Peter Miskimmin and Geoff Barry who heads up the Community Sport element both delivered straightforward, common sense but in many ways inspiring appraisals of how they have created a sporting environment which has been widely praised and held up as a model to be followed.

We learned how they decided in 2007 to change and streamline the structure of sports administration and to adopt a much more targetted approach to funding.

The ‘tough love’ basis of podium potential was used to identify six Olympic and three non-Olympic sports that could produce athletes that would stand a much better chance of fulfilling their potential if greater funding and support could be pushed their way.

The funding, in a country with similar population size and resource to ours, was finite could not stretch to be all things to all sport.

The new approach produced almost instant results with a record haul of thirteen medals at London 2012 rising to 18 in Rio four years later.

Success bred greater funding from Government and the extension of the number of sports being targetted to 12.  There is also scope for funding individual athletes who come to prominence during an Olympic Cycle and while the main review takes place every four years straight after each Olympic Games, there is a review two years out where tweaks can be made to funding and support.

It was notable too that the High-Performance arm was treated as a stand alone entity with specialists employed in strength and conditioning, physiotherapy and sports psychology which could then be deployed to individual sport on the basis of need and impact.

A removal of the Command and Control form of management has also resulted in a significant change at local or community sport level.  Detailed research was conducted to identify which areas of the population could gain the greatest impact from funding and programmes and programme submissions sought in order to make this happen.

Again while nobody was willing to end all funding to the least effective programmes straight away, the story of success in specific target groups ranging from 0-5 year olds, teenage girls, indigenous community sports and on occasion groups who were most active, generated real results and a change in culture.

It is not perfect, the two speakers were very quick to identify that they themselves have concerns in many areas and that the underlying threat of a less playful childhood experience is storing up problems but part of the way to beat a problem is to recognise it and they do that admirably.

Their presentations followed on from an introduction by Minister of State for Sport and Tourism Brendan Griffin in which he told us that the new National Sports Policy was to be published in July and that the 2018 version of the Sports Capital programme was also imminent.

He praised the recent Irish Sports Monitor as providing real insight on what Communities need and want from sport and activity and expressed the Government’s continued strong belief in what irish sport was doin and was capable of doing for the wellbeing of the nation.

Join us later for a review of the presentations given yesterday by Mary O’Connor, CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport and Sarah Keane, President of the Olympic Council of Ireland.

The Federation would like to thank the supporters who made yesterday’s event possible including Sport Ireland, Teamwear, OSK, Dublin City Council Sports and Wellbeing Partnership, JLT, Leman Solicitors, 2Into3, Clann Credo, Teamer, Olive Learning, Crowne Plaza Blanchardstown and Print Depot.

Image Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy