Cork dual legend Mary O'Connor on the challenges faced by the 40,000 working in the sports sector in Ireland

Cork dual legend Mary O'Connor on the challenges faced by the 40,000 working in the sports sector in Ireland
Cork captain Mary O'Connor and team-mate Valerie Mulcahy celebrate an All-Ireland victory at Croke Park. Now every element of sport in Ireland is under threat for 2020. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE 

JUST because there is no sport happening right now, that doesn’t mean that the activity of the Federation of Irish Sport, the representative organisation for the various national governing bodies (NGBs) and local sports partnerships, has ground to a halt.

In fact, the federation is keen to ensure that those employed in the sporting and leisure industries are not left behind as the impact of Covid-19 is felt far and wide.

Cork camogie and ladies’ football legend Mary O’Connor is the chief executive of the federation and she feels that the voice of Irish sports needs to be heard.

“Our work is even more important right now,” she says.

“We obviously are advocates for our members and make representations on their behalf to government. In this instance, there are a couple of things to consider.

“There will be a financial impact on the NGBs in sport, for two reasons. One is that they have budgeted for the year, for events and for people participating in their sport and so on, so the impact of the virus could be in a few areas.

“Clubs could be registering fewer members, gate receipts could be few and far between or not at all if competitions and games can’t run. Entry fees will be down for various initiatives and programmes that they would be running, you’ll have fewer attendees at coaching courses, possibly fewer children at summer camps. That’s just the basics of it.

“What we’re hearing is that the NGBs are stress-testing where they are, appreciating the absolutely unprecedented situation that we are in as a country and accepting that, but sport doesn’t just happen.

“There are around 40,000 people in this country directly employed by the sports sector, so for NGBs, the paying of wages and practical things like that, just the basics of making sure that those costs are covered, is a challenge.

“Secondly, the federation also represents an organisation called Ireland Active, which is involved in the leisure sector. That has been hit hard at the moment, leisure centres are closed and personal trainers can’t operate, swimming pools are closed and so on.

“There are about 10,000 in that sector who have been hit. They have come out and asked for a deferral of vat payments and Minister [Brendan] Griffin and Minister [Shane] Ross have come out with a statement around looking for measures to assist the tourism sector and sport can’t be forgotten, either.

“I am very conscious that this is an emerging situation in this country and we have to be cognisant of that, but I do think we need to keep an eye on the fact that sports, in terms of people’s livelihoods, are under pressure as well, just like any other small business and so on.

“These are unique times and people are doing what has been asked of them by the government, the organisations have heeded the request to call off events and collective training sessions and so on. Obviously, they do believe in the collective good and social solidarity, but behind all that, then, there are people who need to be paid, this is their job and so on.

“This is something that we’ll have to monitor over the next couple of weeks. We’re all looking towards March 29, to see if this tactic in the delay phase will work. We support the efforts being made, but sport is a business, it is an industry and that will need to be supported as well.”

Michael Murphy, Mary O'Connor and Bernard Brogan. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Michael Murphy, Mary O'Connor and Bernard Brogan. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Ordinarily, O’Connor might have expected to be making representations to an incoming government, keen to ensure that sport is looked after, but any of that is on the back burner.

“The work of the federation in that area will happen once a government is formed,” she says.

“We will try to influence policy and decision-making around a programme for government, but that is not in our thinking at the moment.

“Our immediate priority is to ensure that, at governmental level, they’re aware that sport is in a good place in the sense that it’s vibrant at the moment, but currently we are in a situation that couldn’t have been foreseen when budgeting was undertaken at the start of the year and it is going to have impacts on their bottom line.

“You have to remember that the majority of governing bodies are not for profit. They make organised sport happen at a national level and a community level and it’s value to the country. The physical and emotional benefits have been well stated, but there are benefits to the economy, too.

“In times of crisis like this, people are missing their sport. If they can’t do it, they like to be entertained by it.”

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