Government's €70m rescue package a crucial and timely win for Irish sport

Government's €70m rescue package a crucial and timely win for Irish sport
Outgoing sports minister, Brendan Griffin.

If the Government's announcement last night that all sports could return on June 29 was music to the ears then it was reduced to the status of support act just hours later when news of what is tantamount to a €70m rescue package for the sector was announced.

Sport isn't out of the woods just yet but it can at least see through the trees.

This was the equivalent of teasing your kid with a Mickey Mouse t-shirt for their birthday and following it up with tickets for a trip to Disneyland. Make no mistake, this is huge. Seismic. Brendan Griffin, the minister with responsibility for tourism and sport, described yesterday as “the most important day for sport in this country during my time in this office”.

The Kerryman is in the job three years but there can't have been too many more decisions of such import for sport in the country in the history of the state given the impact which the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant shutdown have had on the industry this past three months.

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

This is not money being handed over for new stands, underage coaching programmes or grandiose ideas of staging some major tournament. These are funds designed to keep the wolf from the door. The Government press release detailed aid being given only where absolutely required, for bodies “in need of assistance to avoid closing”.

Yes, things are that bad. he hope is that this can ward off the worst.

New Zealand, a country which Ireland often finds itself compared to in sporting terms given the similar populations and the Kiwi's superior results on the international stage, 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 the shutdown and 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 will be making heartfelt representations towards that €40m purse in the weeks to come.

Bernard O'Byrne, CEO of Basketball Ireland, is quoted elsewhere in today's sports section stating that they could be out of pocket for anything up to €500,000 and a number of other CEOs have made plain their body's financial concerns in these pages this past two months. This government fund won't solve all ills and fill all financial holes but it is, nonetheless, an absolutely crucial step.

“I am delighted that the government saw fit to respond to the many loud calls for help from our sporting bodies,” said Griffin. “The scale of lost revenues, from the smallest of club fundraisers to a sold-out stadium, is breathtaking. Today’s package will go a long way to aiding the badly needed recovery.”

Sport Ireland will administer the four schemes which will involve “robust” grant applications and assessment processes. A mountain of paperwork lies ahead but that will be the least of anyone's worries now and the IRFU was among the first sporting bodies to breathe a public sigh of relief late last night.

“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,” the union said in a statement.

“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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