€70m government rescue package offers sport hope amid Covid crisis

€70m government rescue package offers sport hope amid Covid crisis
The Federation of Irish Sport and Sport Ireland had said sport faced a very real battle for its future amid the pandemic. Pic: Inpho

A good day, starting with the news that all sports can return on June 29, was elevated to the mantle of historic shortly before 8pm this evening when a €70m government rescue package was announced for the struggling sector.

This day won't live as long in the memory as Packie's save in Genoa or Seamus Darby's goal in 1982 but it deserves to. This is potentially the biggest victory Irish sport has ever experienced. The abyss hasn't been avoided just yet but it has receded.

The figures are considerable: €40m to be split between the GAA, IRFU and FAI; another €10m of a “resilience fund” to go around the other €50m or so National Governing Bodies; €15m to support clubs and a sports restart and renewal fund of up €5m to boot.

The Federation of Irish Sport, which represents all National Governing Bodies and Local Sports Partnerships, and Sport Ireland have been vocal in their insistence that the industry was facing a crisis and, it has to be said, a very real battle for its future in recent weeks.

That bald and frightening fact is reflected in the small print in the government's press release which speaks of funds being made available to bodies who may be “in need of assistance to avoid closing”.

Yes, things are that bad. The hope now is that the worst can be avoided.

New Zealand, a country which Ireland often finds itself compared to in sporting terms given the similar populations, announced a similar package of €90m just a number of weeks ago. The main question now is whether €70m will actually be enough.

The FAI is in an horrendous financial position as a result of ills that came to light even pre-pandemic. The IRFU's Philip Browne has warned of losses to the union of anything up to 20m. The GAA's Tom Ryan has put their potential loss of earnings as high as 60m. All three bodies will be making heartfelt representations over that 40m purse in the weeks to come.

Bernard O'Byrne, CEO of Basketball Ireland, is quoted in Saturday's 'Irish Examiner' stating that they could be out of pocket for anything up to €500,000. He spoke of spectres such as bankruptcy and receivership on RTE Radio some weeks ago.

This government fund won't solve all ills and fill all financial holes but it is, nonetheless, an absolutely crucial step.

“The sport sector has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and many sporting bodies and clubs are experiencing significant financial challenges,” said Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

“We have had extensive contact with the sector and it is clear that the challenge is enormous and is being felt at every level. While the scale of this package may seem extraordinarily large, it merely reflects the enormity of the challenges being faced by our sporting bodies.

“This new funding package will assist our National Governing Bodies of Sport and sports clubs as they prepare to restart their sports under the Government roadmap. Sporting organisations and clubs are hugely important for the social fabric of every community in the country and we want to ensure that the sector recovers as strongly as possible from the current crisis.

“The Roadmap accelerations and funding being announced today will ensure the survival of our vibrant sport sector, particularly the network of clubs throughout the country. My officials will now engage with Sport Ireland to design new grant schemes, which will be administered by Sport Ireland.”

The IRFU described the funding as a “lifeline” to sport in the country.

“Since the closedown of the country in March Irish Rugby’s income has effectively fallen off a cliff and while we have moved quickly to significantly reduce our costs, huge financial pressure will remain our reality until we return to a time when we can welcome supporters back to full stadia across our professional game.

“Sport is far more than a pastime, it is an important economic driver for the national and local economy, it supports the physical and mental well-being of our people and it adds to the social and cultural fabric of each and every community in the country.

“It ensures that young and old can form the friendships, skills and values that we are known for across the world. The funding available from government will be a lifeline to sports and the IRFU thank the Taoiseach and his government for standing with our sector in this time of crisis."

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