“very high emphasis on the social benefits associated with spectating and with national pride..”

With Northern Irish Olympic athletes being celebrated at Stormont Mick’s post on government funding of sport in the UK and Republic of Ireland is worth re-visiting. Particularly the reference to confusing “an ole-ole-ole tradition with a sporting culture” given the report, noted in the Irish Times, by ESRI economist Dr Pete Lunn which states, on the Republic of Ireland’s funding of sport – “It is not at all clear what rationale is responsible for this distribution of funds, which is not in keeping with the stated aims of policy.” The report is available here. From its conclusions [pdf file]

First, current policy devotes almost twice the amount of public money to elite sport it devotes to grassroots sport. This places a very high emphasis on the social benefits associated with spectating and with national pride in the achievements of top players. It is hard to see how these benefits can be judged to be greater than the health and social benefits associated with mass participation, both active and non-active.

Second, of the funding that is allocated to grassroots sport, the large majority is spent on facilities. Empirical evidence, on the other hand, suggests that there is little demand among the wider public for more facilities and that provision of more facilities is not the best way to increase levels of participation. There is a strong case for moving away from the provision of physical capital to funding the human and social capital associated with sport. International evidence suggests that communication with non-participants (through for example the organisation and marketing of events, targeted programmes and new opportunities) is more likely to raise levels of participation.

Third, by far the biggest share of public investment goes to traditional team sports, especially Gaelic games. Yet these are not the most popular sports, nor the fastest growing, and they suffer from very high rates of dropout in early adulthood compared with individual sporting activities, many of which receive little or no public support. It is not at all clear what rationale is responsible for this distribution of funds, which is not in keeping with the stated aims of policy.

If the primary aim of sports policy is to capture the benefits of sport for the wider public, these three balances within the allocation of public spending on sport need to be re-examined.

Cont.

To a degree, however, the current situation whereby policy is at odds with the evidence base is not surprising. Although the level of funding for sport has increased dramatically over the past ten years, the policy mechanisms it supports have not. Moreover, much of the research is relatively new and it takes time to absorb and respond to the messages it contains. The information and insights of this new research have resulted from sports policy itself, which specifically set out to learn more about sporting activity in Ireland when it established the Irish Sports Council and gave it the duty of carrying out such investigation.

Nevertheless, the picture provided by the research findings is now consistent across several large-scale surveys and is also in keeping with international evidence. There is, therefore, a strong argument for revisiting the fundamental basis for public investment in sport and bringing policy more into line with its evidence base and stated aims. It is up to policy-makers whether and how they choose to respond.

, , , , , ,

  • George

    So it’s state-funded aerobics all around then seeing as this is the fastest-growing and most popular “sport”.

    Maybe the Irish government could introduce tax breaks for abdomenisers.

  • Rory

    “Third, by far the biggest share of public investment goes to traditional team sports, especially Gaelic games. Yet these are not the most popular sports, nor the fastest growing, and they suffer from very high rates of dropout in early adulthood compared with individual sporting activities, many of which receive little or no public support.”

    Aahh! “Individual sporting activities”. I smell a pitch for the golfing fraternity here. If any public money is to be funnelled in that direction I would suggest that it would best be spent on hiring “What Not to Wear” advisers to give dress counselling sessions to the game’s participants.

  • Mark McGregor

    He seems to have missed much more obvious ‘social benefits’ to societies and communities that are gained from the GAA in particular, especially in rural areas that benefit from little else. Though, its an academic’s and statitician’s view on sport so no surprise that he doesn’t have any idea about the entirity of the subject he is suggesting policy on.

  • Dec

    Third, by far the biggest share of public investment goes to traditional team sports, especially Gaelic games. Yet these are not the most popular sports, nor the fastest growing

    Which begs the question what is the most popular and fastest growing sport? Well, if I can read bar-charts that would appear to be the Exercise, which, we are told, is shorthand for such activities as aerobics, keep-fit routines and going to the gym. What, no dog-walking or Wii Fit?

  • Rory

    Or indeed, dogging? Very popular in some parts. At least that’s what I’m told.

  • niall

    Before this gets thread gets down to the sectarianism can I say that my experience of northern ireland is that the sports facilities are incredible.

    The GAA is well organised, it’s great strength is the parish system or something that appropriates that. Thus it is often better the more rural you get as in the smaller towns everyone has a role to play, is appreciated, and buys in to a project.

    Once you have that they target growth on and off the field and work towards it. They target money that is available, they just apply common sense so I hope this thread doesn’t descend into slagging them of.

    I agree that with the report that their are loads of facilities in Ni and of an incredible standard from the base of 15 years ago.

    The problem with sport in NI is that the most popular hobby for young people is getting off their heads every weekend from 17 – mid twenties.

    Thats it, we are a nation of pissheads and generally proud of it. And it’s not even a fact unique to yous’ems or us.

    Not sure sports funding can tackle that problem.

  • exerkensei

    Which begs the question what is the most popular and fastest growing sport? Well, if I can read bar-charts that would appear to be the Exercise, which, we are told, is shorthand for such activities as aerobics, keep-fit routines and going to the gym. What, no dog-walking or Wii Fit?

    And don’t forget swimming includes Aqua-aerobics, which could probably be fairly classed as “Exercise”. And walking doesn’t count. It has it’s own theme tune, and everything:

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=L84dSVDg5XU

  • aquifer

    Do all schools and colleges still have an afternoon for sports?