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The Federation of Irish Sport hosted its second annual conference at the Guinness Storehouse on Thursday 29th May with this year’s theme being ‘Shaping Sport’s Future’. Two panels comprised of experts in their respective field’s discussing- 1. The Future Financing of Sport and 2. The Role of Sport in Irish Society.

The day started with over 150 delegates and exhibitors arriving at  the Guinness Storehouse for a tea and coffee reception and a great opportunity to catch up and share experiences with other people from the world of sport. Guests gathered in the main conference room at 4pm where the official opening was delivered by the Federation’s CEO, Sarah O’Connor who said:

“I hope you leave today with some new ideas. But perhaps most importantly with some positive inspiration about the reasons you do what you do and why you work so hard at it” . She continued and was clear that “the challenges are worth overcoming” and that as a result “the opportunities both for sport and Ireland are real”. 

Keynote speaker, Dr Leo Varadkar, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport, gave a detailed look into the sector from his department and government’s standpoint. Commenting on where we should ‘allocate our limited resources’, Mr Varadkar stated that

“ previous decisions on capital funds have been ad hoc rather than plan led and I think we need to see what we can do about that”.

Looking at finances in sport, which of course is a major concern for many of the Federation’s members, the Minister confirmed that the government:

“have already committed to multi-annual funding so that the Sports Council fund NGB programmes on a three year rolling basis”. His approval of such a move was apparent, going on to say that “I think (it) is a much better way to spend money and much easier for NGBs to plan and that’s now (government) :policy”.

Continuing with the upbeat tone, the Minister was quick to pay homage to the work already being done by the NGBs:

“The number of people participating in sport is increasing – by about 1% every year and is now at 47/48%. Still lower than we’d like it to be, but definitely going in the right direction. We as a society are becoming less sedentary which is down to what the NGBs do while the government has a supporting role”

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After Minister Varadkar’s address, attention turned to Panel 1- who were tasked with looking at ‘The Future Funding of Sport in Ireland’. An exciting blend, the panel consisted of; Minister Varadkar, Bernard Allen – Board Member, Irish Sports Council and a former Minister of Sport, Hugo McNeill – MD, Goldman Sachs Ireland and Chairman, Ireland Funds and Garrett Kelleher – Executive Chairman, Shelbourne Development Group and owner of St Patrick’s Athletic FC. Caroline Murphy, the RTE broadcaster and MC for the day, asked Hugo McNeill where he thought the funding for sport should come from?

“Firstly I think we need to tell the story of sport better. What sport needs is it needs to be brought together to articulate the impact it can make, think about the funding and learn lessons, and share that best practice because we all have a common interest”, said the former Ireland rugby international.

Asked about his views on the future funding of sport in Ireland, Bernard Allen interestingly reiterated what both the Minister and Hugo McNeill had said, when pointing out that the right structures must be in place to ensure investor confidence:

“One of our responsibilities is to ensure that there is good governance in the sporting organisations. As chairman of the NGB funding I’m satisfied that there is an ongoing improvement in the governance within the major sports bodies” he said.

 Allen called for joined up thinking to ensure a more sustainable future:

“I think other departments have to live up to their responsibilities. Until such a time the departments like Justice, Health and Social Welfare come on board with some of their budgets I think we will be struggling to meet the needs of sporting organisations” he said.

Delegates took part in a Q&A at the end of the first panel which was a fantastic opportunity to get a views from the floor which varied from concerns in smaller NGBs to the health sectors view on the contribution that sport make to physical and mental health.

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Panel 2 aimed to look at ‘The Role of Sport in Irish Society’ and began with a talk from Andy Reed, OBE, Chair of our equivalent, the UK Sport and Recreation Alliance. What was particularly valuable was Andy’s UK experience on sport and it’s multifaceted benefits. Explaining the idea of an independent ‘sport think- tank’ and the benefits that one brought to the UK, Reed was quick to make parallels with Ireland:

“The think-tank is a place in which we exchange ideas bringing together the partnerships we see here actually. So it is health, tourism, business, local authorities and sports people as well as government in the same room to think some of the unthinkable things”.

Following the same format as before, the panellists were asked questions from MC, Caroline Murphy. The panel was made up of; Andy Reed, OBE, Brendan Kenny (Assistant Dublin City Manager), Fiona Coghlan (Irish Rugby Captain and PE Teacher), Kate O’Flaherty (Director of Health and Wellbeing Programme, Department of Health) and Keith McCormack (Director of Visit Dublin and Head of Events Ireland, Failte Ireland). Again delegates were given a varied viewpoint from the various strands of industry and government that sat on the panel.

Fiona Coghlan, a PE teacher in Lucan Community College recognised the issue with the current format in schools.

“Realistically most of kids days are spent in school so they start in primary school. As they move through school they become more sedentary and there is no specialised PE teacher in primary schools so it depends whether the teacher likes doing PE or sport that they get more time doing that”.

Asked if school is where kids must be active, she conceding the challenges that lay ahead:

“Definitely I think it should be compulsory, everyday it would be amazing, but that’s not going to happen because you’re pulling against numeracy and literacy, physical activity is put on the back burner”.

Kate O’Flaherty with her Health and Wellbeing remit in the Department of Health argued that sport from the Department’s  point of view was extremely important in achieving their public health goals:

“We need to show that were a country that values health and wellbeing. When you ask people what’s the most important thing to them in National surveys and what they want for their children it is health and happiness and the framework for delivering this is the ‘National Physical Activity Plan’ which is a key initiative under Healthy Ireland”

The conference session wrapped up at  6:30pm with delegates and guests mingling and chatting at the drinks reception. This was a fantastic opportunity for exhibitors and delegates to get together and share common interests and make new business connections. At the same time, there was an open mic session with Adrian Barry from Newstalk’s Off the Ball with panellists including: Hamish Adams, Liam Harbison, Ciaran Gallagher, Paddy Barnes, Bernard O’Byrne, Kate Feeney, Niamh Daffy & Peter Smyth.

Dinner was attended by the majority of delegates and the networking, talking and sharing of ideas continued into the night…

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Watch the full video here- https://irishsport.ie/wpress/index.php/2014/06/federation-of-irish-sport-conference-2014-full-video/