Irish sports bodies are waking up today to €5 million more in funding, their first increase from the Government in a decade.
But the most significant and radical change is Sport Ireland’s (SI) decision to guarantee the country’s top Olympic prospects their individual ‘carding’ for the next two years.
Heretofore elite athletes have only been funded on an annual basis and had to meet performance targets and win medals in the previous year to qualify.
Athletes pleaded for multi-annual funding, arguing it would take a lot of pressure off them, allow for the vagaries of injuries and also help them with their long-term planning and now they’ve finally got that.
Almost 100 top athletes got 2019 carding grants yesterday which range from podium (€40,000), world class (€20k) to international class (€12k) and they’re guaranteed the same amount next year, a huge fillip in their bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
Boxer Kellie Harrington, whose grant has increased from world class to podium for winning a world title, said: “This is brilliant and a huge relief for athletes. It allows us to go out and perform with less pressure on us.”
Teenage gymnastics star Rhys McClenaghan, one of only 15 athletes to get podium funding said: “It’s huge. It relieves so much stress. To have Sport Ireland saying ‘here’s your funding and you’re sorted for the build-up to the Olympics too’, that’s perfect for me.”
Minister of State for Sport Brendan Griffin said Sport Ireland had lobbied hard for this change and that it became possible because of the growth in the economy and his department’s budget. Sport Ireland announced a total €31.8m investment for 2019 yesterday, an increase of €4.4m on last year, bolstered by an additional €1.5m to fund specific competitions for Olympic and Paralympic qualification.
It was split into €12.8m in ‘core’ grants (for governing bodies), €8.46m for ‘high performance’ programmes, €7.29m for Local Sports Partnership schemes, €1.943m in the carding scheme and €820,000 for the Olympic Federation and Paralympics Ireland.
One surprise absentee from the carding system was Rio silver medallist Annalise Murphy, a recipient of podium funding (€40k) for the past two years.
But she has moved from solo-racing to the two-person 49erFC skiff class with Katie Tingle ahead of Tokyo 2020. Sport Ireland say they have put aside €40,000 to fund this crew but are waiting for them to start competing and producing results.
No Irish marathoners were included in this year’s carding scheme and SI’s director of high performance Paul McDermott said this was because they hadn’t met the criteria given by Athletics Ireland, though he said that AAI have a sub-carding system which is used to fund them.
Apart from the carding scheme, there was over €11m in separate ‘high performance’ grants and, after the women’s heroics at last year’s World Cup, Irish hockey took a big leap in theirs, netting €1.06m, second only to Paralympics Ireland.
Yet Hockey Ireland does not fund their girls’ underage teams (Irish U16, U18 and U21s) whose players were recently informed that they’ll have to do individual fundraising of over €1,000 each to play for Ireland this year.
Sport Ireland said they are aware of this anomaly.
“It’s not unique to hockey and they’re a sport in transition,” Paul McDermott said. “Hockey Ireland is dealing with the new reality of catering for a world-class team and having to change the way they do their high performance programmes.
“That’s not going to happen in the next six or eight months when their focus is an Olympic qualifying tournament here and to get the team to Tokyo,” he said. “But we would expect, and will support, a significant change in the way they approach their whole pathways.”
Amid fears that this year’s international Rás Tailteann cycling race is to be cancelled, Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy was asked if Sport Ireland could intervene to avoid that.
“We’ve allocated €40,000 to it, which is the exact same did the same last year and, in terms of support for specific events around the country, that’s a substantial amount for us,” Treacy said.
“I haven’t heard it’s been cancelled or in danger of being cancelled.
“I know they’re short of a sponsor but they need to go and talk to Cycling Ireland.”
Minister Griffin said he had only heard the Rás rumours 24 hours earlier but had asked his officials to investigate and report back to him by the end of the week.
2019 High performance funding overview
Paralympics Ireland €1.51m
Hockey Ireland €1.065m
Athletics Ireland €1.064m
IABA Boxing €922,000
Irish Sailing €916,000
Rowing Ireland €817,000
Swim Ireland €787,000
Horse Sport Ireland €705,000
Cycling Ireland €690,000
Confed. Of Golf €650,000
Olympic Federation €475,000
Pentathlon Ireland €339,000
Triathlon Ireland €262,000
Gymnastics Ireland €220,000
Badminton Ireland €219,000
Cricket Ireland €200,000
Tennis Ireland €190,000
Canoeing Ireland €104,000
Irish Judo €94,000
Irish Taekwondo €72,000.
Irish Clay Target €57,000
‘Podium’ grant recipients (€40k) 2019-20
Thomas Barr (athletics)
Katie George Dunlevy & Eve McCrystal (Para-cycling)
Rhys McClenaghan (gymnastics)
Kellie Harrington & Joe Ward (boxing)
Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop, Niamh McCarthy, Noelle Lenihan, Orla Barry (Para-athletics)
Ellen Keane (para-swimming)
Natalya Coyle, Arthur Lanigan O’Keeffe (pentathlon)
Paul O’Donovan & Gary O’Donovan, Sanita Puspure (Rowing)