The CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport has warned that we cannot take for granted that all sport will return once the current restrictions have been lifted.
It is estimated that 13,000 sporting clubs and organisations may not survive the financial impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic without assistance leading to calls for the government to establish a Resilience Fund by the Federation.
CEO Mary O’Connor has said that the “unprecedented halt” of sport has caused a huge strain on the various bodies.
“You couldn’t foresee or plan for this, there’s been no activity for 11 weeks, and as a consequence of that, our National Governing Bodies (NGBs) have been severely financially impacted. Then you have the uncertainty of not being able to go forward.
“You have organisations who have estimated losses, Athletics Ireland are talking about a €1.5 million loss, Cycling Ireland have seen an 84% decrease in their racing membership on this time last year. That type of story is prevalent across all governing bodies.
“Our NGBs, for the most part, are not-for-profit organisations who organise sport and physical activity in this country. Our NGBs generate income in a number of ways, through membership structures and then through events, competitions, gate receipts, sponsors. All those types of opportunities to generate revenue have now stopped.
“From a Federation of Irish Sport point of view, the call for the Resilience Fund was based on the concerns of our members. They reflect the concerns of bodies all across the country, not just in urban Ireland, but in rural Ireland as well. For the most part, the vibrancy of rural Ireland, it does revolve around their local sports club and facilities.
“We can’t take for granted that sport will exist at the end of this, we have to understand that there is a huge challenge for sport to remain viable.”
Similar funds have been established internationally in recent weeks by Sport England, Sport Wales and Sport New Zealand to help ease the financial burden on their sporting bodies.
Since their establishment, these funds have been overwhelmed by requests which only serves to demonstrate their need, according to O’Connor.
“This resilience fund would be distributed on evidence of need, it’s not just calling for money for money’s sake.
“Some clubs would only need a small bit of working capital to get them going again and then others would have different costs, facility maintenance, commercial repayment on loans, etc.
“How it would be distributed would be up to the design and up to the Department and Sport Ireland to agree upon but there are examples internationally of it working and we could learn from them.”
While a number of sporting bodies have been allowed to reopen under Phase 1 by the Return of Sport expert group, they have done so with a very cautious approach in order to maintain health and safety protocols and physical distancing.
While these are essential measures, the cost of implementing them cannot be overlooked insists O’Connor who warned that reopening their doors has added even more financial strain on already overburdened organisations.
“The Federation welcomes the Return to Sport expert group but when you have protocols having to be implemented and put in place, that’s another cost on the NGBs and the clubs in terms of infrastructure around signage or installation of hand sanitizers and so on. That’s another cost for already overburdened organisations.
“Although some sports have been able to return, they possibly haven’t been able to function the way they normally would because they are not generating the same type of money they would have expected to.
“The money that they do generate is being put back into the running of the organisations to ensure they are giving people the opportunity to be physically active and enjoy their sport.”
The sport industry in Ireland employs 40,000 people and also accounts for €2.7 billion in consumer spending. Therefore, if the government invest now, they will see a return, according to O’Connor.
“We completed research with Investec last year and we estimated that for every €100 that the government invests in Irish sport, they get a return of €195 in associated taxes.
“Our sport tourism is worth €500 million to the economy and that’s without any of the big internationals or hosting of tournaments. So there is an absolute return on investment and obviously, there’s a social return as well.
“We’re very aware of the financial pressures on the government at the moment but what we’re saying is that when you invest in sport, you’ll get a return, in health but obviously economically as well.”