Patrick O’Donovan admits Government must change approach

Good, but could do better. If Ireland’s performance at last year’s Olympic Games were a report card it would read as exactly that.

Patrick O’Donovan admits Government must change approach

On the one hand, Rio delivered more top 10 and top 20 finishes than ever before. On the other, Team Ireland only brought back two medals. That’s one less than the stated target, although Paralympics Ireland exceeded their ambition for eight with 11.

The reasons for the mixed Olympic vibes are many and varied and the Rio Review that stretches to over 200 pages laid a lot of them out while undoubtedly failing to delve into others. Such is the way of these things but it is what it is.

Individual governing bodies have to shoulder a fair portion of the blame, so too some coaches and individual athletes, but there was an acceptance yesterday from Minister for State for Tourism and Sport, Patrick O’Donovan, that the Government has a case to answer as well.

Minister O’Donovan has seen first-hand from a trip to New Zealand how counties of comparable size do sports and the funding of it. Though they boast a population roughly equal to Ireland’s, the Kiwis plough four times the money into the sector.

Eighteen medals in Rio, four of them gold, suggest they got bang for their buck.

Top Irish sports administrators have been arguing for years that more money is required and, not just that, but a more strategic manner of delivering it into the system that allows for long-term planning and not the uncertainty of annual distributions that hamper long-term planning and ambition.

“We actually have to take a far more strategic approach over the development of sport. It has to be done, I believe, in five or six-year cycles, because they have to stagger Olympic cycles,” said the minister at yesterday’s publication of the Rio Review document..

“If we continue along the road we are, we’ll have all the high performance units and the top 10 finishes we had in Rio, but I don’t believe we’re going to break through the glass ceiling, which this country deserves to break through, and which is to put us on the same level as New Zealand.”

This will be music to the ears of those in Sport Ireland and the various National Governing Bodies (NGBs) but the job of persuading other arms of Government that have always looked on sport with disdain — on the few occasions they have looked at all — will be a lengthy one.

Funding amounting to just €20m was announced yesterday for NGBs and athletes for 2017. That’s about on a par with the numbers last year. Sixteen athletes qualified for the top ‘podium’ grant worth €40,000 to them this year. Next year? Who knows?

It’s no way to run a business and that’s what sport is.

A total of €11,412,000 goes to the various sports bodies for core funding and ‘Women In Sport’ programmes. High-performance allocations for these NGBs amounts to €7,215,000 and another €1,753,000 across 14 sports goes to 80 individual athletes.

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