By Jackie Cahill
Former Dublin senior football team captain Paddy Christie has accused the Government of contributing massively to the obesity epidemic currently gripping the country.
World Health Organisation figures released last year indicate that Ireland is on course to become the most obese country in Europe – with the continent facing a crisis of “enormous proportions” by 2030.
Christie, Dublin’s current minor football team manager and vice-principal at Our Lady of Victories boys national school in Ballymun, believes that the Lansdowne Road agreement is a major contributory factor.
Under the deal, which follows on from the Croke Park, Haddington Road and previous agreements, teachers are required to work an extra 33 hours per school year in non-classroom contact - but after school sports don’t count towards this figure.
And Christie fumed: “The sad thing is that realistically, when it comes to obesity, we’re creators of our own downfall.
“There’s not enough emphasis on sport in school.
“It’s nonsensical to be talking about the millions of euros spent on putting task forces together when some of the most obvious solutions is on our doorsteps.
“The Lansdowne Road agreement stops the extra hours they want to get out of teachers being used for sport.
“And I can’t understand why millions, and possibly billions, will be put aside to combat obesity when teachers aren’t allowed to use these hours for sport.
“You can’t call yourself a sporting nation when this is going on for the last number of years.
“It’s ironic that the Croke Park and Lansdowne Road agreements are synonymous with sporting venues, when we took such a negative step.”
Christie has heard anecdotal evidence of schools not engaging in Physical Education classes for weeks on end, and he also pinpoints another major problem.
He explained: “Working parents have their kids in childcare and are only getting home themselves at six in the evening so their kids are not physically active.
“The only activity some of them will get is through the schools so for the schools to be hamstrung like this is devastating.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a political person but the various parties have been talking about the economy and other stuff but very few have mentioned anything to do with sport or exercise.
“From talking to Niall Moyna at DCU, he has very strong feelings on this and believes it will cost the country an awful lot of money in the years to come. He’s not talking about millions – it’s billions – but would we not be better off preventing this in the first place?”
One of the terms of the Lansdowne Road agreement specifically states that whole school hours should not be used to account for voluntary work carried out by teachers, e.g. sport.
Christie added: “So sport is not considered part of any contribution to the school? What a kick in the teeth for somebody that’s done it for over 40 years, for example.
“So people that were doing monstrous work, for little or no thanks, get slapped in the face. They’re being told that the hours they did down the years mean nothing because it doesn’t fill paper.
“Look at Philly McMahon’s case, where the teachers in the school and people in the club gave him a lot of time, and look what happened afterwards.
“I’m just using Philly as an example because he’s a Ballymun Kickhams clubmate of mine but the days of the Philly McMahons and Davey Byrnes, success stories from disadvantaged areas, could be over because I can’t see fellas like that getting the same time from teachers in school.
“The powers that be have decided it’s not valuable time for teachers in schools – they want them doing paperwork and in meetings instead.
“I qualified from St Pat’s in Drumcondra in 2001 but if I was a student coming out now, I wouldn’t go into teaching.
“What kids talk about in 30, 50 or 70 years time isn’t the history of civil wars – they remember going to McDonald’s after winning the schools final in Parnell Park of the winning goal in a local tournament.
“Our hands are tied. Every week or every second week there’s a staff meeting and teachers are going through admin work. For somebody with a limited amount of time, particularly teachers with young families, that hour or two that they were going to give to sport or drama after school can’t be given any more. They’re trying to destroy people who want to give that little bit extra.”