The inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference was held on Tuesday 21st May 2013 and saw a coming together of representatives of Ireland’s sporting community at the Guinness Storehouse. Over 40 sports were represented at the event and distinguished guests also included the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

RTE’s Jacqui Hurley was MC for the event and the keynote address was delivered by Sir Keith Mills. The Federation of Irish Sport also took the opportunity to launch its new five year Strategic Plan which has as its central theme the potential of sport to contribute to a better Ireland. A lively panel discussion followed closing the session.

The conference finished off with a drinks reception and dinner for the delegates giving all present an opportunity to cement existing relationships and support new ones. The conference was supported BHP, Coca-Cola, Diageo, IPB and Shared Access with a number of exhibitors also attending.

The Federation’s aim for the conference was to bring representatives from the sporting community together as well as create some positivity around the potential of sport for Ireland.  It was highly appropriate therefore that, Sir Keith Mills who served as Deputy Chair of the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and who more recently set up his own foundation, Sported, which looks to change the lives of Young People Through Sport, used his address to focus on  ‘working together in sport’.


Sir Keith Mills emphasised the need for sport to demonstrate to stakeholders both public and private “why sport is important.” In particular, he stated the need to produce hard evidence of the social and economic benefits of sport as failing to do so will ensure that sport will continue to be bottom of the political agenda. He argued that there is a real need to prove to all funders that ‘prevention is better than cure’ and that investing in sport will have huge economic and social benefits.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Sir Keith referenced recent work of his own foundation Sported in this regard. Sported assists some 2,500 clubs across the UK including 150 in Northern Ireland which, look to use sport as tool to transform the lives of disadvantaged children. In particular, he referenced the recent results of a three year research project into sport for development which found that such work reduced the risk of young people becoming involved in alcohol and drugs misuse by 19%, in crime and anti-social behaviour by 15% and in improving health and well-being by 14%. The report also found that up to £4,000 per young person is saved by using sport as an intervention to tackle social problems. This evidence he said was crucial in Duetsche Bank coming on board as the foundation’s first corporate partner with the work of the foundation to date having been supported in its entirety by Sir Keith himself.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Sir Keith then used his experience first in winning the bid and then in delivering the London Games to demonstrate the importance of working together. In relation to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games bid process, Sir Keith outlined that in 2003 the UK were not in a good place to even make a bid. 13 other countries were bidding so it was a hugely competitive environment.  Previous British bids had not had all the stakeholders behind the bid and the challenge therefore was to get all the bodies namely, government, the sporting agencies and indeed, the cultural sector to come together. Indeed, he said that the IOC feedback on why London was successful over the fancied Paris Bid was that the UK presented a united front. This was in contrast to the French where there were evident divisions between the French Olympic Committee and the Ministry for Sport.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Sir Keith also addressed the challenge of raising corporate support for sport. He reference the £1 billion secured from corporate partners for the Games but said the challenge for sport is to seek to maintain corporate funding in the aftermath of the Olympic and Paralympics. He talked about a project he was involved with called the ‘British Sports Marketing Bureau’ which would provide sporting bodies with the opportunity to pool commercial rights with a view to attracting an increased amount of corporate support for sport.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Sponsorship he noted had moved away from branding. One of the big lessons from the corporate investment for the London Games was the need for businesses to be sure that the investment would deliver on their corporate objectives. He reference BT’s investment of over £100 million which was aligned to their transition from a landline to broadband provider and the reality that the communications hub at Olympic Park would allow them to demonstrate to clients the quality of their produce and service in the most demanding of environments.

He also referenced the recent Premier League broadcast deal worth over £5 billion which sees the League sell their rights collectively with even the biggest sports brand in the world, Manchester United  believing that by coming together with its “competitors” created a bigger opportunity than choosing to go it alone. Despite this and the reality that the creation of a British Sports Marketing Bureau would not inhibit sports from continuing to sell their rights individually support for the project from a number of sports bodies remained under discussion.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Sir Keith said he felt an element of this was that sport traditionally worked in silos. However, he feels that a cultural shift towards working more collaboratively as a sector would provide greater opportunities for sport collectively as well as facilitating the movement of sport up the political agenda. He said that he was working to see the UK government adopt a National Sports Strategy that would facilitate the bringing together of different government departments impacting on sport to deliver real change by working together – not something that government departments have traditionally done.

A full video of Sir Keith’s address can be viewed here

Alistair Gray followed Sir Keith to the podium and spoke about the ‘journey’ towards the publishing of the Federation’s new Strategic Plan and went through his long association with sport in Ireland stretching back to 2001. His work includes developing a High Performance Strategy for Irish Sport and working with the FAI, Cricket Ireland, the IRFU and Irish Boxing in developing various strategic reviews.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Alistair spoke about how sport in Ireland has progressed from being underdeveloped and underfunded before the establishment of the Irish Sports Council in 1999 to a position of achieving its best ever performance at the Olympics and increasing participation rates more recently.

He outlined how the Federation had made a similar journey from early beginnings in 2002 to more recent success in establishing Just Sport Ireland and the bringing of sport together in respect of the “Sport Matters” Campaigns.  In assisting in the development of the Federation’s new strategic plan he outlined the wide and significant consultation process that had involved the member organisations, key stakeholders such as the Irish Sports Council and the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport as well as a “Vision Event” at which people from the media, sports industry and business were invited to attend.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Alistair concluded that he felt there was a special role for the Federation in bringing sport together on issues that would be of benefit to sport as a whole and ensure that the full potential of sport was maximised for the betterment of Irish Society.

A full video of Alistair’s presentation can be viewed here

Sarah O’ Connor, CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport then outlined the contents of the Strategic Plan in which the Federation sets out its vision to “to provide dynamic and effective voice for Irish Sport, promoting the value of sport to Ireland whilst providing outstanding representation and services to members.”

Sarah said that the Plan set out five Goals namely;

  1. To ensure that sport is recognised and use by government as a key tool in the creation of a better Ireland
  2. To increase the operational effectiveness of our members
  3. To be the independent and authoritative voice of Irish Sport
  4. To raise public awareness of the contribution of sport and the work of our members to Irish Society; and
  5. To strengthen resources through strategic partnerships

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

She then went on to outline a number of initiatives that the Federation would look to develop and initiate to facilitate the achievement of these goals. This includes the development of the Sport Matters Campaign beyond funding to other issues impacting on sport, the on-going development of the Federation’s public affairs function to include the establishment of a Friends of Sport Group within the Oireachtas, the development of media relations given the challenge of engaging the media on the wider impact of sport away from the “sporting activities”, the development of relevant group purchasing scheme such as the group insurance program which, to date has achieved savings of 23% on average for sporting bodies and the growth of services such as Just Sport Ireland.

Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Sarah also stated it is intended that the Conference would develop into an annual event which would serve as the culmination of a year round events programme including peer networks and relevant award schemes. The Federation also will look to serve as a bridge between sport and the business as well as the rest of the not-for-profit community with involvement in Coca-Cola’s thank you fund for example evidence of some progress on this to date. Sarah also highlighted the need for the Federation to be as well run an organisation as possible.

The Federation hoped that by 2017 significant progress would have been made in ensuring sport lay at the heart of government policy. Evidence of this would be a National Strategy around Sport but that this could only be achieved through sport coming together.

A full video of Sarah’s presentation can be viewed here


The theme of the panel discussion centred on ensuring ‘that sport is recognised by Government as a key tool in the creation of a better Ireland’ and was expertly hosted by Jacqui Hurley. Sir Keith spoke again about the importance of sport coming together as a group to put forward its views to government and indeed the Department responded positively to this suggestion from the floor. It was felt that key issues of common ground across all sporting bodies, such as Charitable Status for sport, should be presented to government through the Federation as the definitive ‘voice of Irish Sport’.

The full panel discussion can be viewed here

Conference Materials


Sir Keith Mills at the Inaugural Federation of Irish Sport Conference

Partners and Exhibitors

The event was made possible by the generous support of our partners: BHP Insurances, Coca-Cola Hellenic, Diageo Ireland, IPB Insurance, Shared Access.

We would also like to thank our exhibitors: Auxilion, BHP Insurances, CI Structures, Crowne Plaza Hotel Blanchardstown, Future Fit, McSport, MyClubFinances, OSK, Print Depot, Shared Access, and 2into3.