Individual sports rated most popular

PARTICIPATION in sports is generally increasing, according to a new report, but “much more quickly” for individual sports such as swimming, jogging and exercise rather than team sports like Gaelic football, hurling, soccer, and rugby.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report, published today, criticises the fact that “elite” sporting activities receive twice as much public funding as “grassroots” or club activities.

The elite category includes horse and greyhound racing, as well as major venues and performance spaces for top national and international competitions and athletes.

One-third of all Sports Capital Programme (SCP) funding between 1999 and 2002 went to the GAA, with soccer getting 19% and rugby 3%.

In 2007 and 2008, the GAA received a similar percentage of SCP grants, with soccer getting 16% and rugby 8%.

“Even accounting for its superior levels of social participation, the GAA’s funding per participant stands out,” says author of the report Dr Pete Lunn.

“If the aim is to increase participation in sport and exercise, it is hard to justify the present funding allocation.”

By far the biggest share of public investment goes to team sports, especially Gaelic games, says the report. That’s despite team games not being the most popular sports, nor the fastest-growing, and suffering the highest dropout rates in early adulthood, compared to individual activities such as swimming and exercise.

Three one-off projects have accounted for a substantial share of available funds — Croke Park, Sports Campus Ireland and Lansdowne Road.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism (DAST) sports budget for 2008 is going to the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund, with much of this being paid in prize money.

This “significantly exceeds” the entire budget of the Irish Sports Council — the body with primary responsibility for increasing participation levels.

Just 6% of the DAST’s sports fund goes towards swimming pools, yet swimming ranked second most popular sport to participate in, after exercise which includes aerobics and gym activities.

“It remains a matter for those who support this subsidy [to racing] to explain how it provides greater benefits for wider society, given the absence of evidence from which any such a conclusion can be drawn,” the report said.

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