Sport public meeting calls for change

An excellent public meeting took place in the Bracken Court Hotel in Balbriggan to explore how new thinking is needed on sport funding policy.

The public meeting hosted by Social Democrats Local election candidate Garrett Mullan involved representatives of different sports discussing ideas on how the situation could be improved to benefit all sports and all communities.

The speakers included Secretary of Balbriggan Athletics club David Flynn, Chair of Balbriggan Vikings Basketball club Paula Mc Kenzie and Director of Competitions at the Football Association of Ireland Fran Gavin.

When Sports Capital Funding is benefiting private schools in South Dublin and betting taxes are ringfenced for horse and greyhound racing. we figured it is time for new thinking. Could money raised through Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) benefit community sporting activity?

The meeting discussed different ideas which would help improve sports provision in communities. David Flynn (Balbriggan Athletics) recognised that a full size athletics track in every community would be a tall order as each track would cost €400,000, but a 100m track with a bend can be built for €50,000. This would allow clubs to thrive across the country and to apply the discipline of the sport to be applied at all level from casual road running and park running to short distant sprinting.

Fran Gavin is to be part of the FAI delegation which will meet the Oireachtas Committee on Sport on the 11th April. He explained how currently Fingal Council is regarded as one of the most progressive local authorities in Ireland in terms of supporting sport. He said that his role with UEFA gave him insights from other countries which could perhaps help develop sports in Ireland.

For example, Fenerbache which is known as a hugely successful football club in Turkey is also the home of other sports including basketball, volleyball, table tennis, athletics, swimming, sailing, boxing and more. Other clubs such as Barcelona FC, Benfica FC have a similar model of accommodation of different sports under one ground.

While these are big name clubs, is this a model that could be developed in Ireland? Fran Gavin thinks so and says the role of South Dublin Council in developing Tallaght Stadium as a municipal stadium has had huge benefits. Shamrock Rovers are a tenant, but the ground has also been used for rugby and other events. The stadium has also served to generate commercial activity in the town.

Paula Mc Kenzie of Balbriggan Vikings explained that the club now has over 200 members but without assets it cannot benefit to any level from Sports Capital Funding. At the same time, they are paying €1200 a month in renting halls from schools and council owned community centres.

Jim Faulkner coaches at Balbriggan’s Taekwando club involving over 70 members said they also have difficulty accessing facilities for training. He noted that Fingal Council owns 22 community centres but has outsourced management of those centres to a commercial company who in turn are charging communities high rents.

Rob Corr coach at East Meath United FC worked for five years at Skerries Community Centre and believes the model is something that should be replicated elsewhere in Ireland throughout all communties, whereby the centre is owned by the local community groups who each have a say in its running.

The meeting also discussed the role of schools and how their facilities must be opened up for community use in out of office hours. A suggestion to encourage this process was to increase school capitation funding, if they are open to communities in the evenins and at weekends. Other ideas for changing the way sport is funded is to open up the money raised through the betting tax to benefit all sports

Social Democrat local election candidate Garrett Mullan added: ‘there is great potential to serve communities better through supporting local authority sports offices to partner with local clubs. Tonight we have discussed a range of policies that could make a real impact and benefit all communities and all sports’.

The social return on investment in sport is seen on a multiple levels, in terms of improving health, contributing to community cohesion, crime prevention, supporting education and more. However change is needed in the way we support sports.

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