Emmet Ryan reflects on the call for a Resilience Fund for sport after a week where key figures in the sector have painted the picture of sporting organisations becoming non-viable unless something is done to financially support the sector.
The governing bodies of minority sports are calling on the government to create a sports resilience fund.
Multiple national governing bodies (NGBs) told the Business Post that the damage caused by Covid-19 restrictions posed existential threats to their sports.
“We are managing okay right now but we will start to feel the pinch as we go further if we lose membership,” Sarah Keane, chief executive of Swim Ireland and president of the Olympic Federation of Ireland, told this newspaper.
“We’re concerned about what happens later in the year. If swimming pools don’t open, we can’t run the sport. There is a concern that 20 to 30 per cent of pools will never open again.”
Swim Ireland has 20,000 members across 160 clubs in Ireland. Keane wants to see a resilience fund set up in order to prevent facilities or clubs being forced to close permanently because of the current restrictions. It is proposed that the fund could be administered by Sport Ireland, the governing body.
“Everybody is on the same wavelength that a resilience fund is required. If some clubs and facilities close down, it will forever change sport,” Keane said.
Ciaran Gallagher, chief executive of Gymnastics Ireland, said that 88 per cent of the 1,500 people working in the sport had been laid off or furloughed since March. The sport has 36,000 members across 100 clubs nationally.
“Some clubs would have been in a position where they had enough cash to take them through to summer. Others were more at risk as they only had fees paid up to Easter,” said Gallagher.
“The government has an incredibly difficult task, but sport provides everything across the health and wellness agenda. We need a programme that recognises that and supports the specific business considerations in the sector.”
A drop in membership fees has also put pressure on Sailing Ireland. Its chief executive, Harry Hermon, said the fiscal impact was already damaging clubs.
“I’m hearing from clubs telling me they can hold out another month or two but, if it goes any longer, they won’t open again,” Hermon said.
“We already know from the commercial centres there are some that won’t reopen, as they have effectively gone bust.”
Revenues in the sport, which has 22,000 members in over 200 clubs and centres, have dropped by 80 per cent in the second quarter of 2020. A similar loss in member revenue has hampered Triathlon Ireland, which has 20,000 members across 100 clubs.
“There are 22 staff. When we had to close the office, I thought I’d have to put a number on short time working. We managed to avoid that thanks to the income support scheme,” said Chris Kitchen, chief executive of Triathlon Ireland.
“There’s still some nervousness because we’re waiting to see how it will be extended. Membership income has fallen through the floor. In terms of total income, we were down 48 per cent against budget in March and 76 per cent down in April,”
Kitchen said a resilience fund could be the difference between sports being able to come back or shutting down once the crisis passes.
“We are probably able to weather the storm with our reserve but, if there’s another closedown, it wouldn’t be prudent of us to blow all our reserve,” he said.
“We’re not asking with a begging bowl. We want to be constructive and give value for any money we get.”