Private Members Business- Gov. FG. Motion as follows:
That Seanad Éireann:
recognises the central role of sport in Ireland and its enrichment of people’s lives both as active participants and as a country;
values the better physical and mental health and well-being that is to be gained through sports participation;
values the achievements of Ireland’s sporting heroes;
recognises that sport and recreation also have other benefits for the nation both economic in terms of sports tourism and employment opportunities;
supports the Government’s efforts to increase participation and interest in sport; and
calls upon the Government to continue:
to improve and develop sports facilities at national, regional and local level;
to make Ireland an internationally recognised destination for competitions in as many sports as possible; and
to build upon previous successes and work to attract world class competitions to Ireland such as, for example, the Rugby and Golf World Cups, international cycling and equestrian competitions and other high profile events that will have economic, social and reputational benefits for Ireland.
First of all, I would like to say I welcome this motion. Sport is something that is often never talked about in a holistic sense, yet its contribution to our nation and to our individual wellbeing cannot be underestimated. If anything sums up the central role of sport in Ireland and its enrichment of people’s lives both as active participants and as a country, we need look back no further than a few weeks ago when Brian O’Driscoll and the Irish team battled to an unlikely, historic victory over France in Paris, clinching the Six Nations title and elevating the mood of the nation in one fell swoop.
There can be no doubt that days, months and indeed entire years of Irish contemporary culture are influenced by what happens in our stadia and parks up and down the country. Sport is deeply embedded in our culture – and we perform strongly in a wide variety of sports. From track and field, to hurling and football, to soccer, to rugby and many, many more, the Irish consistently punch above our weight, and consistently support our national teams with a ferocity which is rarely seen in other nations.
The “social, economic and reputational benefits for Ireland”, as this motion puts it – even from our support alone for sports – is immense. If we look at the Heineken cup, we see that all four of our provinces benefit from fantastic support both home and away. The undoubted highlight of our 2012 European soccer Championship experience was the reputational benefit that our fans abroad gave us.
But sports, as we all know here, is so much more than that – spectating is one thing, but participating is another. There are myriad benefits to health from participating in sport, if that means jogging for twenty minutes a few times a week, or taking part in tag rugby, or joining a five-a-side team, or joining the increasingly popular mixed martial arts field, there are huge health benefits – and long-lasting ones too – which go hand and hand with sporting participation. Indeed, these benefits aren’t just physical, as practically every study shows that mental health benefits immensely from sporting activity, and from the social aspects that are attached to team sports. This can be important too, and should by no means be underestimated.
The motion is absolutely right to call on the Government to work to continue to improve Ireland’s sports facilities at a local, regional and national level, and that is why we have just closed the application process for our second round of Sports Capital Grants since we came into Government. The Sports Capital Grants process ensures that all clubs – no matter how big or small – can participate and compete based on the merits of their proposals.
A great many clubs will be competing for this most recent round, with €40m being divided between clubs, but it shows our great commitment to enabling clubs to improve, participate and compete at local, regional and national level. It should also be noted that the sports capital programme creates jobs and brings a return to the Exchequer, something which is often forgotten when it comes to sports.
When it comes to the national picture, I believe that we do need to show ambition, and I am glad that we are seeking to host a number of international sporting events in the coming years. The Rugby World Cup is something which we absolutely can host, and one which we should dare to compete for. Aiming to host at least some of the matches in the Europe-wide 2020 UEFA European Championships is also an ambition worth pursuing.
These bids will have myriad benefits for Ireland in the years to come, should they succeed. Hosting the Giro D’Italia next week is another feather in our cap. The Volvo Ocean Race last year was fantastic, and is something we need to have more of here.
We have a great deal going for us when it comes to bidding for these large international tournaments: a temperate climate, central location between mainland Europe and the US with direct flights to many nations, central timezone which means many television markets are open to us.
Even smaller measures such as the abolition of travel tax will play a role when it comes to the box-ticking assessment that many international sporting organisations go through, and is an important step which was undertaken yesterday. When it comes to the arena of hosting international tournaments, Ireland should continue to dare to compete, put our name in the hat, and work towards delivering results, as our Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport – along with a great many organisations – is currently doing.
I welcome this motion, I believe it is important to acknowledge the myriad of positives that sport has on this country not just as an activity but also as an industry: sport creates jobs, sport unites communities and sport can lift our country economically, socially and reputationally, and this is worth its weight in gold.