Time for a level playing field for sports funding in Northern Ireland…

In a country where sports / cultural funding is generally split along sectarian Lines, the 3,000 people who participated in the Gran Fondo yet again tells us loud and clear that sports participation in Northern Ireland bears no resemblance to the way our politicians allocate funding for sporting capital projects in Northern Ireland.

Our politicians representing the various minority Nationalist / Unionists factions continue to fight each other for sports / cultural funding and make all the headlines with their Windsor Park and Casement Park ‘white elephant’ projects that will never be used by 99.9% of the population for actual sports participation purposes. Even visiting these facilities as a spectator, these stadia will only ever be visited by less than 10% of the population and filled to capacity possibly four – five times a year. The majority of the population will continue to do what all available data tells us they are already doing which is carrying on participating in a wide range of other sporting activities up and down the land.

The one common characteristic each of these ‘other’ sports have, is they generally are sports in which the rest of the world participates in regularly and unusually for Northern Ireland have no cultural or sectarian affiliation to just one  community, they are cross community sports, which may explain why most of these sports such as walking and  cycling receive little or no funding for capital projects from the Ni Assembly and instead have to rely on raising finance from other sources such as fundraising or the National Lottery.

My observations are supported by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s own research published in November 2012, undertaken by Dr Dan Hull titled ‘Grassroots Sport in Northern Ireland; A Summary of Participation and Potential Challenges.

As you can see in Page 10, the most popular sports that our population participate in most regularly include, walking, swimming, keep fit, golf, jogging and cycling.

The most surprising thing for me is how far down the table in the ‘Continuous Household Survey’ sports such as football (8th) and GAA (15th) rank yet it is these sports which have been allocated the lion’s share of funding running to over £100m for capital projects whilst many sports with higher participation levels receive little or no funding for capital projects. If one believes in evidence based funding decision making, the only conclusion that any reasonable person could make is that the whole method of allocating funding at Stormont for sporting / cultural capital projects in Northern Ireland is a process which is not fit for purpose.

The electorate deserve better and every penny spent on capital projects for sport should be allocated on the basis of need rather than cultural / political party affiliation. Our politicians should be using evidence based funding to determine how our already scarce resources should be allocated. Rather than spending over £100m pounds on sports than rank 8th and 15th respectively in terms of participation levels, serious consideration should be given to investing funds on facilities which will receive the greatest use by the general public such as swimming pools, sports halls, running tracks and velodromes etc. A £100m investment could construct over 20 new facilities across NI which could not only be used by the population all year round and represent good value for the taxpayer, but create more employment and economic activity in a greater number of locations across Northern Ireland.

All the available evidence clearly shows the wider Northern Ireland society does not need a revamped Windsor Park and certainly does not need a Casement Park type project. Watching our politicians waste scare resources on ‘white elephant projects’ whilst banging the ‘austerity’ and ‘protecting the most vulnerable in society’  drums on a daily basis is very odd indeed.

Our politicians are yet again, completely detached from the wants and needs of the majority of the population.

  • james

    Football is probably the richest sport in the world while the very lavish GAA must be the richest sport in Ireland or NI

  • Gingray

    According to these studies, more people are playing indoor bowls as are playing Gaelic Games, despite there being 4 times as many Gaelic Clubs in Northern Ireland (most of which have male and female teams at various age levels and sports.

    I would have liked a redeveloped Casement at half the size, but I enjoy going to the Gaelic Football and Hurling so I would say that.

    I would agree completely that the £100m could have been spead better across more sports rather than Gaelic games, football and rugby (which you forgot to mention …).


  • Old Mortality

    Far too much money is lavished on team sports which tend to have more financial resources than other sports and also don’t do enough to promote fitness in children and adolescence. Team sports as organised at school or club level tend to encourage the more talented who will make the teams most competitive while the rest are allowed to fall by the wayside. In many of our schools, PE teachers devote most of their attention to coaching the sport of their choice, usually rugby or GAA, while ignoring the general fitness levels of non-participating pupils.
    Physical fitness should be made compulsory in secondary schools in the same way as religious education. PE teachers should be responsible for ensuring that all pupils attain and maintain a minimum level of physical fitness.
    Outside the education system, funding for sport should be concentrated exclusively on those individual sports which are largely amateur but have a high Olympic profile such as boxing, athletics, gymnastics and swimming. They also have the advantage of requiring a much higher level of fitness for effective participation than do team sports.

  • whatif1984true

    It is the politicians AND the Civil Servants. They want and prefer BIG projects with BIG PR. It is too much like hard work to look after the small projects. Right now they should max fund (as appropriate) a different sport each year giving a mix of long term investment and once off events to raise the profile and start up of the sport. Refuse this level of sport to Rugby GAA and Football at least for the first 6 years.

  • Chris Jones

    Its very simple. GAA and Football have the backing of Political Parties that see them as cultural expressions (or as Gerry might put it, weapons) . This has been played to the hilt by the respective representative bodies who have secured a lot of funding for projects with a very limited appeal. Does this sound familiar in NI politics?

  • How many miles of off road cycle path could be constructed for the same price as something like a velodrome or running track. These are mainly utilised by competitors as opposed to the general public. If people had the option of these safer routes away from road traffic, it would encourage a lot more people to go out and keep active for a relatively small cost to government. These off road cycle ways are also very attractive to runners and walkers. Maybe one day, we might decide to elect people who know how to make balanced, reasonable decisions.

  • Kevin Breslin

    The most surprising thing for me is how far down the table in the ‘Continuous Household Survey’ sports such as football (8th) and GAA (15th) rank yet it is these sports which have been allocated the lion’s share of funding running to over £100m for capital projects whilst many sports with higher participation levels receive little or no funding for capital projects.

    On that list is Golf – well funded, Cycling – well funded, Snooker & Darts – well funded and things like fitness-training, running, jogging, bowling and ten pin bowling which are extremely low cost even mostly non-competitive with completely no interest in any competitive athletics as a result, outside of say the Olympic games or Commonwealth games.

    To compete in 10-pin bowling for example, you join a bowling league, you pay an entry fee and from there you join international competitions and it doesn’t get the slightest bit of government support usually.

    Funding is drawn in terms of audience rather than participation, how much athletics, swimming or racket sports draw in comparison to football, Gaelic games, rugby (union) or cricket even with falling attendances.

  • Chris Jones

    ” PE teachers should be responsible for ensuring that all pupils attain and maintain a minimum level of physical fitness.”

    ….. and if zey dont the beatings will continue!!

  • Chris Jones

    “off road cycle ways are also very attractive to runners and walkers” ….who will complain about being mown down by mad cyclists

  • Kevin Breslin

    Northern Ireland already had a Velodrome in Wallace Park, it fell into disrepair. Surely a second all-Ireland velodrome would be a much better solution? The island has one functioning one in Kanturk in Cork, that’s fairly far for most people in the Republic of Ireland, not just Northern Ireland and Donegal.

  • Kevin Breslin

    A much simpler explanation exists, how many hurlers (fastest ball sport in the world) or Gaelic footballers or camogie players can still play the sport even at a hobby level well into their seventies?

    I guess this might be why GAA and soccer are facing competition from cricket in the South these days too.

  • Gingray

    Hmm, I’ve been to indoor bowling in Northern Ireland – a friend helps his dad out when they are stuck. I would say the majority of the players are in their 60s and 70s 🙂

  • Dan

    There is absolutely no comparison between the very necessary redevelopment of Windsor and the white elephant, and monument to greed, that Casement Park would have been.

  • aquifer
  • aquifer
  • aquifer

    There are some great old railway track beds that would make wonderful scenic cycleways and bring in thousands of tourists.

  • aquifer

    The Assembly’s research people have also done some good stuff on the benefits of cycling for leisure recreation and tourism, also on why more people cycle in other countries: http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/raise/publications/2015/regdev/2415.pdf http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/raise/publications/2015/regdev/2315.pdf

  • Brian O’Neill
  • Zig70

    Swimming top? The pools are fairly empty when I go and of those you would only say 5 or 6 were actually swimming. The link to the data in the report hits a 404.

  • Superfluous

    Um, yeah, as if Windsor would regularly get 30k+ attendances like Ulster football finals.

  • Dan

    Windsor is being redeveloped to an appropriate size.

  • Granni Trixie

    You could compare the field of sport to the arts where it’s a matter of judgement how much resources go to elites and how much to sustain and encourage wide participation which ofcourse is related to attitudes.
    With joined up thinking isn’t sport related to health and prevention strategies which brings up definition of ‘sport’?

    For me it should Include keep fit and even dancing….anything which gets kids and adults off the couch. Look, at school I hated sport (those bunny jumps! ) negativity which stayed with me,Infact I notice that I usually manage to filter out sports related news items even though I have a particular interest in cultural matters). However for health reasons I now go to circuits in a gym and even enjoy Zumba whereas I would never participate or watch the other ‘sports’ mentioned in this post

  • Dessie

    that’s one football game a year – the hurling doesn’t get that! Not too many knocking about casement in February for a division 4 league game

  • Old Mortality

    Possibly! I’d prefer to think of lunchtime and after-school sessions in the gym.

  • Old Mortality

    Hurling is a technically difficult sport which would exclude those without the necessary co-ordination from effective participation. Like tennis or squash, it isn’t much good for you if you can’t hit the ball properly.

  • Kevin Breslin

    My point being that given half the population here are over 50 and factor in those too juvenile to play team sports before you even consider the almost mono-communal appeal of the Gaelic games here and that being among the “minority” community. The GAA numbers aren’t insignificant.

    Actually, in an average 70 minute game with 30 players on the pitch, the average player is with the sliothar only 140 seconds, with 4060 seconds running or positioning yourself trying to get it or stop it.

  • Trevorabh

    Keep the cyclists to their own paths, lanes and so on. Fine them £90 if they veer from them. Suddenly, we’ll be able to build proper cycle networks with all the fines rolling in, if properly enforced.

  • kensei

    As you can see in Page 10, the most popular sports that our population participate in most regularly include


    Not a sport, unless you are doing funny Olympic walking. Any money spent on things like parks is money on walking.


    Are people doing this a sport – continuous training – or are they having a splash in the pool? We have leisure centres than we need, mostly due to sectarian lines.

    keep fit

    Not a sport, people are also lying, watching a keep fit video doesn’t count.


    A sport, but it does get money e.g. I believe the government sponsored the Irish Open for a couple of years.


    Not a sport and again people are lying. It’s by its nature, dirt cheap unless you are really into expensive shoes et al. There are timed runs in parks.


    Again, are they doing it as a sport or a hobby. There is a vast difference. I cycle round the park regularly but do not for a second consider that I am doing cycling as a sport, nor would I want to do it as a sport.

    Not that any of those activities aren’t worthwhile, but it’s a bit disingenuous labelling some of them as sports and some of them actually require major investment outside of any sport budget.

    For the ones like running or cycling where maybe people could be converted from doing things in passing to actual sport activities, there are both UK and Ireland associations whose job it is to get money and do projects. Some of the failure lies there. Football, Rugby and GAA don’t have magic sectarian powers to get money, they have great visibility and are good at lobbying.

  • whatif1984true

    I ring a bell to warn of my approach. It is not a request to move just a warning. Most walker couples close up, I say thank you and pass by at a reduced speed. Others shout at me for ringing the bell. Others will refuse to move, generally older men (maybe a bit deaf?). Others with dogs will ignore me and let dogs run at bike. Others with those long wire leads seem oblivious to the fact that they are blocking the whole path. Women couples often make way leaving a small gap between each other. So it is not all about cyclists.

  • Kevin Breslin

    That deals with Road-cycling, but track cycling you either have to head to Cork or to Britain to practice.

  • Granni Trixie

    Zumba,a mixture of merangez,samba and rhumba really takes it out if you ie it keeps you fit. I imagine that young people’s sort of “dancing” where they roll around the floor is also demanding physically. So why not reach out to non sporty pupils with activities attractive to them rather than assumptions that ‘sport’ means traditional team sports.

  • kensei

    I’ve no doubt it wrecks you. It’s just not a sport.

    We focus on sport but we maybe need to focus on physical education. Basically any sport has an element of competition, either against others or yourself. That alone can put people off.

  • james

    By heading to Britain do you mean England?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Scotland and Wales have Velodromes too. I’m never going to use Britain as a substitute for the UK, just like I avoid using Ireland as a substitute for the Republic of Ireland.

  • james

    Personally, to avoid confusion, I tend to use Great Britain to refer to the larger island, and Britain to refer to England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Well I’m a different person, and I’m not going to change my habits. Many British people agree with me. Does a British Gibraltarian become any less British by how you or I define a Britian?

  • Kevin Breslin

    Yeah, I’m not confused.

  • james

    Of course not. Nothing you could say would make me less British, and nothing I could (or would want) to say would presumably make you feel any less Irish. I’m all for celebrating the diversity that exists here. PS. I haven’t asked you to change your habits.

  • kensei

    Britain is England and Wales. Great Britain adds Scotland. No part of Ireland is geographically part of England. You are adding confusion!

  • Barneyt

    I am positive towards the development of casement and indeed Windsor. Such stadiums should be dynamic and over more to other events and sports, other than those directly attached.

    Not enough girls participate in sport. I don’t see many being attracted towards soccer, as its simply far too agressive and tribal, which for me is ugly. This extends to GB too.

    Tag rugby and Gaelic football over much more inclusivity. They both involve a great deal of running, teamwork, and generic ball handling skills that can be transferred from other activities, such as netball and basketball.

    With Rugby and Gaelic, I believe they can better co-exist. I would prefer to see some sort of agreement between the two bodies to offer more to each sport and cross pollinate players (both sexes) and facilities.

    I know I am cherry picking sports…but I do this having played both at a reasonable level and also been involved in 7 aside mixed sex tag rugby (great event) and my daughter with Gaelic football. She made a migration from hockey quite well. She loves it and her fitness has improved greatly.

    Once you play one active sport, it opens up more possibilities and the possibility of a healthier adult life. They is where I would create sporting alliances between GAA, rugby, running clubs, cycling clubs, hill walking associations, swimming clubs and all variants of this etc.. and tie funding to efforts made to reach across these different sports (of course without compromising the direct raison d’etre for their club in the first place).

    If we get more people running through sports, cycling and swimming, we will see a upsurge in health across the board.

    Investment in stadia is important. The north needs a decent venue and alternative to croke park. Windsor I believe is falling apart? So this needs an injection. NI needs a strong soccer stadium. Such facilities do play a part in securing major international sporting venues and provide facilities for concerts.

    Perhaps we need to be more inventive with their use in the “off season”.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Agree with kensie here. Sports that need grounds and equipment are being funded.