The Oireachtas Briefing on the Federation’s pre-budget submission was the first time the Federation had an opportunity to brief a gathering of Ireland’s elected representatives inside Leinster House. We were delighted to get the the opportunity to outline some of the challenges facing Irish Sport as well as make what we believe is a compelling case for increased investment in Irish Sport. Almost 30 T.D.’s and Senators were represented either in person or by staff. Set out below is a transcript of CEO’s Sarah O’Connor’s presentation:
I would like to begin by providing a little background to the Federation. In advance of doing so I would like to acknowledge a number of the sporting CEOs present in particular those who serve on the Federation Board namely, Harry Hermon Irish Sailing, Sarah Keane, Swim Ireland, Liam Harbison, Paralympics Ireland, Thos McDermott, South County Dublin LSP, as well as our Chair, Sarah O’Shea, Legal Director with the FAI. Each of them have been instrumental in developing the document you have in your hands and I would like to acknowledge their contribution. It is indeed this coming together of sports big and small, commercial and voluntary that was crucial to the establishment of the Federation in 2002. The desire to have one organisation that can speak and advise on issues common to all sporting organisations whatever their size or nature remains core to the Federation’s work today. Our key message is that sport is so much more than just the sporting activity itself. The impact sport has on people’s lives, the contribution to their health, the events and activities it generates in local communities and indeed, the employment and industries it supports is something all of you must be aware of from your constituency work. However, on a national level we feel that the full potential of sport has yet to be harnessed.
This can perhaps be attributed to the way in which, sport has been traditionally viewed. The truth is that impact of sport stretches well beyond the white lines of any pitch or the walls of any sports hall. Sport is serious business. Sport sustains 40,532 jobs in Ireland whilst contributing 2.4 billion or 1.4% of GDP. Sports clubs alone spend an estimated €818 million within the economy each year. It is estimated that 11% of our annual health spend is directly attributable to physical inactivity. The Finnish Government, who preside over the most physically active nation in Europe, recently issued guidelines to local government warning against cuts to sport services saying that the bill for increased inactivity would fall due with interest some years later. Sport plays a key role in tourism generating more than €850 million for Ireland each year. Sport is also a key player in domestic tourism with over 250,000 Irish people travelling within Ireland to attend sports events in 2012 staying 2 nights on average whilst doing so. The impact on community life in Ireland is also significant. Sport does all of this whilst generating a return of €149 on every €100 invested by Government – there can’t be too many areas of government spending delivering this rate of return on investment.
There has always been an interface between government and sport – what perhaps, is worth pointing out is that in Ireland’s case this is still relatively new. Our sports council is only up and running 15 years compared to in the UK where the equivalent organisations were set up in the early 70’s or in Australia where they have been in place since the early 1980’s. There is a commitment to sport within the Programme for Sport which we feel can only be enhanced by the proposal we are outlining here today.
Our next slide details (see full presentation below) government investment in sport since 2004. The graph clearly details the drop in investment levels since 2009 – investment has fallen by 33% from the 2008 peak with a 9% drop to date over the life of the current government. What this graph does not perhaps detail is that sport was an emerging sector when the recession hit and now following five years of reduced investment particularly, in the current as opposed to capital spending on sport – is on a knife edge. Further cuts in the current spend will send sport backwards fast.
Why? There is so much sport in Ireland that at times it feels like sport just happens. However, nothing could be further from the truth – sport needs to be planned, managed, delivered & above all financed. Funding for sport generally comes from the sources detailed on the slide above. It goes without saying that some of these revenue streams are more relevant to certain sporting organisations than others particularly, sponsorship, broadcasting and ticketing. However, government investment and indeed volunteerism which has an estimated economic value of more than €350 million each year is common to all.
Funding for sport is however under real pressure. The CEOs of even the biggest sports, all of whom are represented here today, will tell you that they have never operated in such a challenging sponsorship market. Amateur sport does not enjoy charitable status unlike in the UK and it is perhaps for this reason that there is no tradition of philanthropic giving to sport. Sport is a labour intensive industry – participants need to be coached, clubs need to be administered, matches refereed. Sport cannot be supported without people and yet volunteers are creaking under the burden of increased regulation and expectation not to mention the financial pressure many clubs find themselves in. NGBs are coming under increased pressure to provide additional supports in this regard. Sport is being hit from all angles – a recent example being the revised rates bill issued to both Croke Park and the Aviva which saw a dramatic increase in rates payable. This is despite the significant economic return delivered by both facilities to Dublin for example, it is estimated that the football activity alone in the Aviva generated a spend of approximately €29 million over the last year whilst the Ireland v England rugby match when held in Croke Park on its own generated a spend of €83 million. Sport too operates in an international environment the vagaries of which Irish Sporting Bodies sometimes have little control be it the reclassification of events at the Paralympic Games which if goes ahead as planned will impact on the number of medal opportunities available to some of our best athletes in Rio or the French and the English feeling they no longer want to partake in the Heineken Cup as it is currently formatted.
So what can be done? Sport is aware of the economic challenges facing Ireland. Irish Sport has never been resource rich and is dealing with the impact of the recession at the front line, much like you our elected representatives, on a daily basis. Our message today is clear however, if jobs are a priority then Irish Sport can deliver. For just €1 per citizen a fund of €4.58 million could be created which would create 150 jobs in Irish Sport immediately leaving €1.5 million for programme funding to allow these indigenous jobs become sustainable. There are currently 2000 graduates with sport specific qualifications emerging each year available and willing to take up such employment. When the tax payable on these salaries not to mention the VAT paid by the sporting bodies given that they are ineligible to claim VAT we estimate that the “real cost” to the State would be no more than 3 million. 150 jobs at approximately €25k per job compares very favourably to the costs per job detailed in recent stimulus packages.
There is European, international and domestic evidence indicating that this is achievable. A recent EU study on the contribution of sport to the European Economy found that sport supports jobs and can grow other areas of the economy. Indeed, sport contributes as much value to the European economy as agriculture, fisheries and forestry combined. Every 60th euro generated or earned in Europe is sports related.
If the jobs are supported Irish Sport has a strong track record in delivering on investment in terms of the jobs and programmes we are looking to be supported and at the same time delivering real benefit to Irish society. Be it in schools where for example the GAA delivered 46,000 hours of physical activity last year in Munster the equivalent of employing 62 PE teachers full time. Or programmes such as the FAI’s late night leagues where there is a 49% reduction in Garda Call out rates for the duration of the League. Not to mention the development programmes run by all sports – Swim Ireland issued 22,000 “Learn to Swim Certificates” to children last year, 13 Donegal schools are now taking part in Ulster Development School League where there were none just a few years ago, 100% increase in Junior Membership of Triathlon Ireland in 2013, the 600 plus team competing in Volleyball Spike Ball programme which allows leaves transition year students in a position to run the programme with primary school children. In short this investment will create jobs, improve health and grow the economy……
And where can you help is by keeping sport on the political agenda, supporting us in raising awareness of the potential sport offers to Ireland, joining the Friends of Sport Group within the Oireachtas we will be establishing in the next few weeks and in particular, by seeking to avoid further reductions in the current investment in Irish sport as distributed through the sports council as well as supporting our call for the allocation of an additional €1 to go towards a job creation fund for Irish Sport….to assist sport whilst meeting real needs of the Irish economy at the same time.
On that note, I am of course happy to take any questions you may have in relation to our presentation and pre-budget submission. Many thanks for your attention.