The Federation of Irish Sport has called on the Government to introduce a resilience fund for sport “immediately” in response to the crippling effects of the Covid-19 crisis.
A statement issued on behalf of the federation’s members – 81 national governing bodies and 29 local sports partnerships – has spelled out in stark detail how the pandemic has wreaked a “devastating” financial impact on myriad sporting organisations in Ireland.
“The fact is that many of our 13,000 clubs and sporting organisations may not survive the financial impact of Covid-19 without financial assistance now,” the Federation warns.
Accompanying statements from CEOs of various Irish governing bodies reiterate how the sporting lockdown has left their sports in such a precarious position.
Bernard O’Byrne of Basketball Ireland warned it was “highly likely that some clubs will cease to operate” and added that urgent, meaningful Government support was “crucial”.
Sarah Keane of Swim Ireland revealed that many swimming pools were facing a scenario where they would retain 80-100pc of running costs while operating at only 30-40pc capacity, with a “potentially catastrophic” impact on swimming, leisure centres and hotels.
And Hamish Adams of Athletics Ireland forecast a revenue loss in 2020 of €1.5 million, leaving his organisation under “severe financial stress”.
The full statement from the Federation of Irish Sport reads: “There has been no organised sport in Ireland for 10 weeks. The stark reality is that the knock-on effects of Covid-19 financially for all sports organisations in the country are devastating.
“Within the last week, we have seen a number of our major team sports talk publicly of losses up to 70% of their turnover. Unfortunately, we are also seeing these type of percentages in revenue losses right across the sporting landscape in Ireland. All sports have been impacted.
“While we welcome the setting up of the Return to Sport Expert Group, its remit is very specific which is to assess the consistency of the various protocols being prepared by NGBs to return to sport in Ireland. The Federation believes however that in addition to this Group, that sport needs a separate Task Force similar to the one Government has set up for the Tourism Industry.
“We need innovative thinking, swift action, and investment at local and national level providing business and administrative supports to Irish Sport to help sustain it through this unprecedented emergency and the recovery.
“The fact is that many of our 13,000 clubs and sporting organisations may not survive the financial impact of Covid-19 without financial assistance now. We are calling on the Government to introduce a Resilience Fund for sport immediately.
“While the government are to be commended not alone on their support for the charitable sector but also for the €250 million fund set up for small business, the reality is that sport needs similar support. Sports clubs across all sports are in most cases small businesses as well as social enterprises – in some cases not that small either!
“It is all too easy to forget that sport in Ireland is today an industry that employs some 40,000 people (supported by some 500,000 volunteers) and which also accounts for €2.7 billion in consumer spending. It also is worth €500 million to our tourism industry.
“The Covid-19 Irish Sport Resilience Fund needs to be established by Government as a matter of urgency. Similar funds were introduced by Sport England and Sport New Zealand a number of weeks ago.
“As is the case in both those countries, support will be needed for club and community sports organisations as well as sports organisations funded through Sport Ireland. This financial assistance must help sports organisations facing particular financial difficulty and support organisations in getting back to business and adapting to the new reality as restrictions lift.
“There has been a significant fall off in income, as the normal revenue sources such as subscriptions, gate receipts, sponsorship, summer camp and coach education income have dried up.
“At the same time, running costs including insurance and facilities maintenance all continue to be incurred. Most sports clubs are not-for-profit organisations with minimal reserves, and they are now also facing substantial costs to be able to implement return to sport protocols in accordance with public health guidelines.
“This at a time when physical activity and exercise has never been as important to maintain both physical and mental well-being. Irish Sport is supporting the Government call in this regard with sports organisations of all types being innovative in their use of digital channels to encourage activity and maintain a sense of community.”
The following statements from individual CEOs are also included…
Sarah Keane, CEO, Swim Ireland
“Whilst we have been operating at full speed providing different engagement opportunities for our members (over 2,000 people will have undergone some form of training/learning with us in May alone), we are very concerned about our clubs and getting our members back into the water. We are particularly concerned about the ability of swimming pools to open and be viable whilst adhering to physical distancing protocols. Many are facing a scenario of retaining 80-100% of the running costs whilst operating at only 30-40% of capacity. The impact of this on swimming, leisure centres and hotels, and therefore our sport and physical activity, is potentially catastrophic.”
Hamish Adams, CEO, Athletics Ireland
“The financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been extremely severe on our business. We are an NGB that prides itself in terms of revenue generation through our recreation, competition and sponsorship ability. In a normal year, we generate approximately 60% of our income from these sources and 40% is granted by Sport Ireland. However, this year we are forecasting a decrease in total revenue in the area of 30% of turnover. This represents over €1.5 million loss to our organisation. Additionally, our clubs, county boards and provinces are also hurting financially due to significant losses, as no recreational events or competitions are taking place. As an organisation, we are under severe financial stress at this time and we greatly appreciate the government Wage Subsidy Scheme and any future support packages.”
Ciaran Gallagher, CEO, Gymnastics Ireland
“Gymnastics Ireland membership consists of a network of clubs that operate as Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) with turnovers ranging from €50k p/a to over €1million p/a and catering for 36,000 individual members. We recently surveyed our clubs and the findings show the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on them. For instance, each month our clubs are not trading – this equates to a loss of €2.4million within the club network. We have approximately 1,500 people employed in the sport nationally and, at present, 88% of club network staff have either been laid-off or furloughed. Only 4% of our clubs believe they can make it through the next 3-6 months under current conditions, with many having concerns about their ability to start back up from a financial perspective.”
Bernard O’Byrne, CEO, Basketball Ireland
“The National Basketball Arena in Tallaght has been closed since March 13th, with all income immediately ceased and bookings over the coming months cancelled. This represents a huge hit on the income of Basketball Ireland and to exacerbate things further, our insurance company insists that the ‘Business Disruption’ clause in our policy does not cover this loss of earnings. At club level, we have surveyed our 48 National League clubs and almost universally, the feedback is that clubs will struggle to re-start financially. Gate receipts will be down due to expected restrictions and the late start of the season, but the major impact will be to sponsorships. Local businesses especially are signalling great difficulty in honouring agreements. It is highly likely that some clubs will cease to operate, and this will cause great disappointment in local communities. Overall, urgent meaningful government financial assistance for sport is crucial. Otherwise, the fabric of sport, and indeed society, will be fractured and may crumble in many cases.”
Matt McKerrow, CEO, Cycling Ireland
“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant financial impact on Cycling Ireland, with the cancellation of events nationwide, and the cessation of all club activities. In 2019, Cycling Ireland’s total income was €4.5 million, with almost one-third coming from membership. The restrictions have resulted in a decrease in the number of members – in particular racing members – for March and April, by 33% and 84% respectively. Cycling Ireland continues to be supported with grant income from a number of agencies including Sport Ireland, Sport NI and DTTAS. Cycling Ireland operates on a not-for-profit basis, with all membership invested into the development of the sport, getting more people on bikes and delivering success on the world stage.”
Harry Hermon, CEO, Sailing Ireland
“As with other sports, many Sailing Clubs and watersports activity centres across the country have been severely impacted financially by the efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Although our coastline and inland waterways qualify as an ‘outdoor amenity’, allowed to resume in Phase 1 today, it is unfortunate that as a result of continued overheads that have needed to be paid through the restrictions without an income to support them, and with the limitations around social distancing and travel restrictions of the early phases of reopening, there are significant numbers whose doors still remain closed. Those that have managed to open for watersports activities, have done so in a very limited capacity, and we hope they will still be operational when restrictions are fully lifted.
Matt English, CEO, Special Olympics Ireland
“Special Olympics is grateful for both the core financial support received from Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland and the more recent Covid-19 schemes announced like wages subsidy and some other schemes announced by the Department of Rural Community Development. However, the cancellation of our Collection Day in April and countless other community-based fundraising events will be very damaging and will significantly dent our hard-fought-for reserves. Sport will play a huge part in improving the physical and mental well-being of the nation. Any stimulus funding would be hugely welcomed.”