There has been a broad welcome for the Government’s €36 million funding increase to Sport Ireland in Tuesday’s budget.
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, also announced a €7 million increase for large scale sports infrastructure projects and €2 million more for major sporting events.
The Federation of Irish Sport, which represents over 100 national governing bodies and national sports partnerships including the GAA, FAI and IRFU, described the budget steps as “unprecedented”.
Sport was allocated €125 million in last year’s budget, up €5.5 million on 2019.
In June, a sporting landscape devastated by the coronavirus pandemic was boosted by €70 million in emergency funding, with the three main sporting organisations, the GAA, FAI and IRFU, getting up to €40 million.
The rest was distributed between resilience funds for national governing bodies and sports clubs, as well as a sports restart and renewal fund.
Tuesday’s budget continues that momentum in supporting governing bodies through an uncertain period with sport taking place behind closed doors.
Jack Chambers, the Minister of State for Sport, said the development of key projects in the National Sports Campus in Blanchardstown is a core objective and €9.7 million will go to progressing it.
He also said that applications will be open in the coming weeks for funding to support clubs under a new sports capital programme.
The Federation of Irish Sport’s chief executive, Mary O’Connor, said: “Our initial reaction is a huge welcome. It’s an unprecedented allocation for sports in terms of budgeting, taking into account the challenge of Covid-19.
“But we absolutely welcome it. We need to hear the detail of the €36 million and where the allocation will be.
“But there is scope there to ensure that current funding for national governing bodies and local sports partnerships will see an increase in 2021. We have to see the detail but we’re absolutely delighted.
“There is an understanding that when you invest in sport there is a return economically and socially on you investment and the Government knows that.”
O’Connor said its priorities for next year are to have Olympians and Paralympians properly resourced ahead of Tokyo 2021 but also underlined the importance of governing bodies providing mass participation opportunities.
“That is the one thing we needed to ensure with Covid-19 and people’s wellbeing, both mental and physical, that they are resourced and can run their programmes and initiatives and their outreach and they can remain viable,” she said.
O’Connor also welcomed the Government’s continued commitment to their plan for doubling funding for sport by 2027.
“They’ve delivered and so must be commended for that in light of the significant financial pressures that are out there,” she said.
The extra €36 million to Sport Ireland brings the 2021 budget for the body tasked with the development of sport in Ireland to €104.5 million.
Its chairman, Kieran Mulvey, said: “Like all areas of society, the impact of Covid-19 and associated restrictions has had a substantial impact on the sporting landscape. National governing bodies, local sports partnerships, clubs and groups all over Ireland have seen their activities significantly curtailed in 2020, which has in turn placed a financial burden on most, if not all.
“The acknowledgement of this by Government and the allocation of an additional €36 million to Sport Ireland is to be welcomed. The funding announced today will provide a significant boost to the sports sector.”
Other reaction to the budget included a welcome from the Olympic Federation of Ireland.
Its chief executive , Peter Sherrard, said: “I thank the Government, Minister Catherine Martin and Minister Jack Chambers for today’s budget announcement.
“We understand that this additional contribution to Sport Ireland will provide much needed support for the sector and will allow continued planning for high performance athletes ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games and the Paris 2024 cycle.
“This is welcome news for our athlete community who deserve our support and are working tirelessly to represent Ireland on the global stage.”
The Federation of Irish Sport is delighted to welcome Budget 2021’s significant increase in funding for the sport and physical activity sector. The Federation is pleased to see government’s strong recognition of the value of the sport sector and it’s need for continued support and development in line with the National Sports Policy. Today’s announcement not only meets the government’s own commitment to incrementally double funding for the sector by 2027 but is also recognition of the significant challenges facing the sector in light of COVID-19 and the cessation of activity during 2020.
Budget 2021 was a significant milestone on the road to funding and resourcing the sector to achieve the targets set out in the National Sports Policy. In what has been an extraordinarily challenging year for the sector, it is heartening to see the government in the third year of the National Sport Policy build on the previous two years of established funding and extend that support to include recognition of immediate challenges facing the sector. Federation member organisations are committed to the growth and development of sport and physical activity for all and the return on this investment will be evident for all to see.
Speaking about the announcement, Federation CEO Mary O’Connor said, ‘Today has been a watershed moment for sport and physical activity. While government support through the pandemic has been appreciated by members it was also undeniably necessary. We have been calling for the continuation of existing funding commitments for the sector at a time when investment in sport and physical activity is ever more important. Today’s announcement shows government’s strong support of the sector as well as their commitment to deliver on targets set prior to the current crisis. This is a true show of support for the work our member organisations do and the positive impact they can have through the pandemic and beyond. We are pleased to see that the commitment to double funding in line with action 45 of the National Sports Policy has been met and superseded again for 2021. We would like to thank the government for their continued engagement with the Federation and our members on the pertinent issues facing sport and their endorsement today of the important and valuable role sport and physical activity play in Irish society.’
After an advocacy-driven campaign on behalf of its members, which included a comprehensive pre-budget submission, meetings with government officials and an appearance at the Joint Committee for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, the Federation of Irish Sport now awaits the publication of a detailed breakdown of allocated funding and looks forward to working with all stakeholders to ensure the continued delivery of sport and physical activity opportunities for all.
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Irish sport has lots riding on tomorrow’s budget. The financial outlook for many organisations will be determined for some time to come by how the Government shapes Budget 2021. Amidst all the uncertainty, keeping the wider perspective in mind will be important.
Disappointment is likely to be the only give-away in this budget. Coronavirus makes sure of that. A society beleaguered by a public health crisis that threatens to only get worse is relying on Government for many things, including to tide them over.
It’s a context that leaves sports bodies with a delicate line to thread. They have to make their case for whatever resources are available. They wouldn’t be doing their job otherwise. But getting the tone right is vital to public goodwill.
When public debate is about stark choices between lives or livelihoods, sport has to carefully navigate its place in the financial pecking order.
In a public health emergency however, many will invite sport to take a place towards the back of the priority queue
It means there’s no contradiction in pointing out how there are more pressing matters than games and entertainment while also acknowledging that they are embedded in the fabric of a society battling this deadly illness.
In its pre-budget submission the Federation of Irish Sport has painted a bleak picture of national governing bodies facing revenue losses of up to 70 per cent due to the impact of Covid-19. The GAA, FAI and IRFU have estimated a combined financial loss this year of€81 million.
The federation has also pointed out how costs such as insurance and maintenance continue despite no activity and no income. Clubs of all types and disciplines all around the country are under serious pressure to survive due to loss of membership, sponsorships and other revenue streams.
Last week the federation’s CEO Mary O’Connor pointed out to an Oireachtas committee that Badminton Ireland has suffered a 76 per cent loss of annual affiliation and that 10 per cent of swimming pools in the country have closed since March.
She warned that tomorrow’s budget is a “watershed moment” for sport in Ireland.
In June the Government provided €70 million to assist sport. The GAA, FAI and IRFU got up to €40 million between them. With no sign of spectators returning anytime soon the country’s three main sporting organisations are in a perilous financial position and have pleaded for more support.
In a public health emergency however, with hundreds of thousands of jobs under threat should the medical situation get worse, and everyone staring down the barrel of an existential threat, many will invite sport to take a place towards the back of the priority queue.
Despite thousands of jobs being tied up in the sector, an inevitable perception will be that sport is a relatively frivolous consideration in the circumstances. Failure to take that into account in reaction to tomorrow’s budget has the potential to rebound.
A statement like the one from the Club Players Association last week, for instance, where it appealed to the GAA to reverse its decision to suspend all games at club level, and allow “a satisfactory end to the 2020 season,” appeared to be tin-eared in terms of wider public sentiment.
The CPA added that players shouldn’t be “left hanging” for the next number of months, a consideration that will feel like far from a problem to many others factoring in rather more pressing difficulties.
Ensuring a viable sporting infrastructure is in place once the worst of the pandemic is over is in everyone’s interests
While it is unfair to pin the blame on GAA authorities for pictures of the rampant ‘yahooery’ widely circulated after recent high-profile club matches, including Blackrock’s victory in the Cork county hurling final, such distinctions will be lost on those who couple such scenes with sport and are appalled at such stupidity.
Reputational blowback from such gaffes doesn’t disappear quickly. Irish racing has been an exemplar for how to operate coronavirus procedures since its resumption in June. Yet it still gets the Cheltenham festival mess flung at it despite not being directly responsible for that blunder.
It’s blunt evidence of how even the perception of exceptionalism is neither quickly forgiven or forgotten.
Even in the best of times the response to any budget is to want more. But in such dark times, making do with less is almost certainly going to have to be the reality. Being seen to buck those traces risks being counterproductive.
The nature of pre-budget submissions are that every demand, request and aspiration get put down on paper, often on the basis that failure to do so indicates a lack of ambition or that the worse that can happen anyway is Government saying no.
When arguing for resources the benefit sports supply are substantial though often vague, long-term and intangible. That doesn’t make them any less worthwhile or dilute the merit of the case itself.
However totting up such benefits right now is a tough sell – in the face of the kind of stark black and white statistics involved in the major health emergency on our doorsteps.
Rather than insisting that new investment and demands live up to commitments made pre-Covid, the best outcome may end up being a series of financial sticking-plasters. Rather than getting what they want, getting what they need is crucial.
Ensuring a viable sporting infrastructure is in place once the worst of the pandemic is over is in everyone’s interests.
The pandemic has flipped financial models on their heads, from the smallest voluntary community club to the biggest commercial operation. All will require major adjustments even in the best-case scenario of the virus finally being brought under control. It makes time of the essence and time costs.
Only the most obtuse can’t appreciate the Government’s priorities in the face of an unprecedented emergency. The urgency of the situation has to temper any indignation or disappointment tomorrow. But sustaining sport until better times return also requires Government to step up and put its money where its mouth is.
Sports organisations have lost up to 70 per cent of self-generated revenue because of pandemic restrictions, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Many National Governing Bodies (NGBs) are struggling to survive the huge financial strain brought on by the Covid-19 health measures.
Mary O’Connor, CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport, told the committee on Media, Tourism and Sport that the sports sector is not sustainable without yearly memberships, event participants and supporters at games and events.
The Federation of Irish Sport is a representative body for 110 sporting organisations across Ireland.
Ms O’Connor outlined the financial hardship facing many of the organisations because of the lack of activity this year.
She told the committee that the GAA, FAI and IRFU are facing an estimated combined financial loss of €81 million.
The committee also heard there has been a 60 per cent reduction in footfall and income in commercial sports facilities including gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools since March.
“More than 10 per cent of swimming pools have closed permanently since March,” she added.
“By way of example, in what was meant to be a stellar year for Athletics Ireland in hosting the European Athletics Championships they instead suffered a 50 per cent loss in income for the second half of the year and a redundancy process with 15 per cent of their staff, with a further 40 per cent of their staff on short time since May.
“This is just one example of many.”
Ms O’Connor said the government’s €70 million resilience fund in June was welcome respite and provided stability for their members.
However, she warned that Budget 2021 is a “watershed moment” for sport in Ireland and the government’s commitment to the national sport policy.
“Badminton Ireland are just one example of the challenges being faced. They have suffered a loss of 76 per cent of annual affiliation compared with this time last year,” she said.
It represents a loss of 10,000 players and 250 clubs and will lead to a loss of over €190,000.
Meanwhile, Swim Ireland has seen a reduction in swimming lessons’ income of 79 per cent, while average income from leisure centres and swimming pools from March to August has dropped 65 per cent.
Hamish Adams, CEO of Athletics Ireland, said they have lost a significant amount of income because of cancelled events.
He told the committee: “It’s a very challenging time, the business model of all sports has changed.
“We had planned to deliver 21 mass-participation recreational events this year, which is a significant income for us and unfortunately not one of the events have take place in person.
“The margins on virtual events do not generate the revenues that in-person have. It has had a massive impact on our organisation right across the board.
“The business model of all sports has changed and we will need time to adjust to the new model, we will adjust but we need support from Government to do that.
“That’s why Budget 2021 is such a watershed for us. Sport has a big influence on physical and mental health of the nation.”
Budget 2021 will mark a “watershed moment” for Irish sport after a year in which governing bodies have experienced losses of up to 70% of their self-generated income.
Mary O’Connor, CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport, gave evidence to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport, and the Gaeltacht on Wednesday, where she warned that any failure to increase government funding could create an “insurmountable gap” to meet the National Sports Policy target of doubling investment in sport to €220m by 2027.
Examples of the scars the coronavirus shutdowns will leave on Irish sport were given, with over 10% of Irish swimming pools, around 35 in total, having closed permanently since March.
Badminton Ireland have seen 10,000 players and 250 clubs fall away as affiliation fees slump by 76% compared to this time last year. This equates to a loss of over €190,000.
Athletics Ireland, who were due to host the European Cross Country Championships in December, are instead involved in a redundancy process with 15% of their staff, having seen their income halved in the second half of 2020. A further 40% of staff have been on short time since May.
The ‘big three’ of the GAA, FAI, and IRFU have already outlined estimates for combined financial losses of €81m this year. That trio are due to get €40m of the government’s €70m resilience fund for sport, with €10m ringfenced for smaller national governing bodies, €15m for struggling clubs, and €5m for a sports restart and renewal programme.
O’Connor said she hopes that money will be distributed to bodies this month as applications, which were received in September, are currently being considered by Sport Ireland.
It will, however, not cure all of Irish sport’s woes.
The fund was implemented at a time when it was anticipated sport would be further down the road to recovery by now. As events continue to be cancelled and mass crowds remain out of the question, O’Connor expressed significant concerns over the “long-term viability of people and programmes if financial losses persist”.
She also warned of a “stagnation of emerging talent” which will result in a “long-term impact” on Ireland’s ambitions for the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games. While funding for the delayed Tokyo Olympics remains in place for carded athletes, a return to Level 5 coronavirus restrictions would be “catastrophic” and lead to a “competitive disadvantage”.
“Our single biggest ask is that Budget 2021 provides for further investment in people and programmes by increasing core funding for sporting organisations,” O’Connor told TDs and senators during a 45-minute hearing where she cited the societal benefits of that investment for physical health and mental wellbeing.
While Athletics Ireland is the only governing body currently involved in a redundancy process, O’Connor said others would have to consider similar measures.
Speaking about the increased costs involved in operating during a pandemic, Athletics Ireland CEO Hamish Adams gave the example of the five-person group being sent to the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland next week.
Each will be tested four times, once before leaving Ireland, once on arriving in Poland, and twice upon their return. The four tests will cost €600 per person.
“That is a tiny team,” he said. “Over the course of the year, we will send over 200 athletes to events. Each of those athletes will also have to stay in single rooms.
“Those are just two examples of why we will require additional funding and additional support to help our talented athletes across all sports to be the best they can be and make our nation proud.”
Swim Ireland chairperson Peter Conway appealed for swimming lessons, which had been permitted under Level 2 coronavirus restrictions, be allowed to resume at Level 3 with carefully regulated numbers.
That association has experienced a 79% drop in income from lessons, while leisure centres and pools suffered a 65% overall decline in revenue from March to August.
“We see a place for swimming lessons within Level 3,” he said.
Badminton Ireland CEO David McGill said access to halls and uncertainty over restrictions were driving the drop off in participation, while Cara CEO Niamh Daffy called for sport for people with disabilities to be at the heart of all government plans.
Today, October 7th, the Federation of Irish Sport accepted an invitation from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and An Gaeltacht to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on sporting organisations and mass participation events. It was a welcome opportunity to highlight the significant challenges facing a sector that generates €2.7bn in consumer spending each year and employs some 39,500 people.
The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for clubs and their governing bodies for many reasons, including significant financial losses of up to 70%, reduced provision of programmes and initiatives for participation and cancellation of seasons, leagues and events. Today was an opportunity to illustrate examples of such loss and emphasis the importance of continued government support for the sector building on the previously welcomed €70 support package announced in June.
It also provided a further platform to illustrate our pre-budget asks of government in advance of the publication of the 2021 budget on October 13th. At today’s hearing the Federation reiterated the importance of the National Sports Policy and it’s target trajectory over the next 7 years. The Federation’s single biggest ask is that government continue to deliver on their commitment to incrementally double funding for sport by 2027. While the challenge of COVID-19 has been immense for many organisations, is it essential that the long term future of the sport sector is protected and invested in in order to deliver a brighter future for all who engage with it. While the sector must survive COVID-19 in order to thrive long into the future, commitment by government to build on progress made prior to the pandemic is vital.
Speaking after the committee meeting, Federation of Irish Sport CEO Mary O’Connor said,
‘We are pleased to have the opportunity to appear before the committee today and highlight some of the significant challenges facing our member organisations as they look towards 2021. While COVID-19 has been devastating in 2020, we are also concerned about what 2021 will bring for a sector that relies so heavily on mass participation and bringing people together to take part. We have stressed the importance of continued COVID related supports to build on the government support package of June but we have also demonstrated the need for a continued and sustained increase in funding for sporting organisations. It is essential that core funding is maintained so that when this pandemic begins to retreat, our organisations are ready to build on the very successful position they held heading into 2020 and continue to provide invaluable opportunities for individuals to become healthier, more active members of our society.”
The Federation of Irish Sport’s full budget submission can be found at: https://www.irishsport.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Pre-Budget-Submission-2021.pdf
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