Struggling Irish sporting bodies must be funded now to prevent the need for an avalanche of cash to re-boot them after the Covid-19 crisis.
That’s the plea delivered by Federation of Irish Sport CEO Mary O’Connor as it was claimed that the ‘devastating’ financial effects of the coronavirus could finish off many sporting clubs and organisations.
“Sport is, by it’s very nature, is very resilient,” said O’Connor. “Sport funding was flat during recession and organisations kept going.
“But no sports body could have planned for this.
“A lot would have worst case planning scenario of one or two months, but it could be six to 12 months now in terms of normality returning – and we actually don’t know what normality will look like.
“But for the government to support the sporting clubs and organisations now would cost an awful lot less than to reboot them post-Covid-19.
“There’s a big demand on the public purse now but we must recognise that when you invest in sport it stimulates the economy and you get a return on that investment.
“Given all the benefits of sport for those who play and participate, we want to make sure we don’t go backwards.”
Representing 110 organisations, the FIS wants the Irish government to establish a Sport resilience fund – similar to the small businesses fund worth €250m – plus a task force to focus on the survival and ‘re-ignition’ of sport bodies nationwide.
Swim Ireland’s CEO Sarah Keane spelt out what the situation from her organisation’s standpoint.
“Many (swimming pools) are facing a scenario of retaining 80-100% of the running costs whilst operating at only 30-40% of capacity,” said Keane.
“The impact of this on swimming, leisure centres and hotels, and therefore our sport and physical activity, is potentially catastrophic.”
Athletics Ireland are forecasting a loss of 30% of their turnover – a €1.5m deficit.
And Basketball Ireland CEO Bernard O’Byrne admitted: “We’ve surveyed our 48 National League clubs and almost universally, the feedback is that clubs will struggle to re-start financially.
“It’s highly likely that some will cease to operate. This will cause great disappointment in local communities.
“Urgent meaningful government financial assistance for sport is crucial.”
FIS point out that the Irish sport industry employs 40,000 people – who are supported by 500,000 volunteers – and accounts for €2.7 billion in consumer spending. It is worth €500m to the tourism industry.
But the Federation warns that ‘many’ of its 13,000 clubs and organisations won’t survive unless funding is forthcoming – a massive blow to a country that has 46% participation in sport on a weekly basis.
O’Connor told MirrorSport: “We’re actively engaging with Minister Brendan Griffin.
“Clubs would only receive funding if they can show why it needed. Some clubs might small amounts, others might need more.
“But it’s important that the general public are aware that sport can’t be taken for granted.
“There cannot be an expectation that sport will simply exist as it did pre-Covid 19. There’s a huge challenge for Irish sport”.