Olympic Reports and the Irish Sports Monitor

February saw a flurry of reports into sport in Ireland, starting on Feb 9 with the Irish Sports Council review of the Beijing Games, followed on Feb 18 by the ISC-commissioned, ESRI-prepared Irish Sports Monitor Annual Report, and that was followed quickly on Feb 25 by the Olympic Council of Ireland’s review of the Beijing Games.

Critical reaction to these reports was pretty uniformly negative: the Times believed we’d win a gold medal only if finger-pointing was an Olympic event; the Independent declared “No change No plan No hope” and the general consensus amongst those reading the reports was similar.

The problem here isn’t one of vision or even of funding. There’s more than enough vision in Irish sport – hell, WTSC has produced world-class shooters in air rifle from a converted hayshed in the middle of nowhere in one of the poorest counties in the country, in a country with the most draconian firearms legislation for airguns in Europe. The ICPSA has produced Derek Burnett and Philip Murphy and a bushel of ISSF medals including Team Gold and Individual Silver in the World Championships, an 8th place in the Olympics, and they’re almost getting bored of bringing home Team and Individual Gold, Silver and Bronze medals from World Cups. And while there’s a definite lack of funding, that’s not the main problem.

The main problem here is that the ISC’s job, and the OCI’s, and the Department of Sport, doesn’t seem to be, well, sport. It seems like bureaucracy and self-perpetuation and the struggle for dominance is the main driving forces within and between these groups and sport is something that just happens away in a corner, occasionally looked at, and found wanting and somehow messy. Anyone who’s ever served on a committee that’s had contact with the ISC will know that paperwork seems to make the world go round. And that paperwork doesn’t have to be right.

Take the Carding Grant scheme, for example. Allegedly, it’s there to support our best athletes so they can bring home medals. But when you look at the fine detail, the criteria that decide what athletes have to do to get the various levels of support, you find that for shooters at least, this is not a support mechanism, but a reward mechanism. For junior ISSF shooters, it’s okay. Hit an MQS in the Nationals or a higher-ranked match and you qualify for a junior carding grant, which is enough money to go to two matches internationally, to get some equipment, to do work with Coaching Ireland, and so on. But for every other kind of shooter, the scheme doesn’t work.

If you’re not an ISSF shooter (even though the NTSA, the ISSF NGB in Ireland for rifle and pistol events, is no longer in the SSAI and so isn’t recognised by the Sports Council), you can’t qualify for the carding grant at all, an artifact of past politics. If you’re a non-junior ISSF shooter, you have to be exceptionally good to gain even the lowest rung of support. And the support is dependant on placing, not performance levels. It’s not your score that gets you support; it’s how well the other people at the match scored. We’re basicly giving out Irish taxpayers money based on how well the German or the American shooters do at a match! And the levels of performance are ridiculous – to get the top level of support, you must have already won an Olympic or World Championships medal! You have to already be the best in the world to get the grant that’s meant to support you in your attempt to get that medal? Utterly cart-before-horse.

Is this the only flaw? No, not even close. Core funding which can’t be used to pay for the rent of an office in SportsHQ. And SportsHQ is worthy of criticism in itself, as it has effectively set itself up as a headquarters for large sports only. All the smaller, “minority” sports need not apply despite having the greatest need. Even when they could apply, before the class C licences to SportsHQ were abolished, they had to have deep pockets of their own.

And while the ISC is the favoured whipping-boy, it’s not the sole rotten apple here. In the Department, which has held onto the pursestrings for the Capital Grant Scheme with great diligence, the norm has become Capital grants that have “mysteriously” seem to disproportionately
favour those clubs physically located in the Minister for Sport’s
constituency for several Ministerial stewardships, and which do not
support the single hardest part of setting up a sports club, acquiring
the land.

What needs to happen?

  • Carding criteria need to be reviewed in order to ensure that you get support to go get the medal, not to get a reward for having gotten one, and the funding levels need to be sufficient for the task.
  • Minority sports need to be given more support for lower fees, starting with access to meeting rooms and PO boxes and communications facilities within SportsHQ. It’s the smaller sports who can’t afford to hire meeting rooms for committee meetings and AGMs that need the facilities sportsHQ has. The GAA and FAI seem to have rooms of their own…
  • The Department needs to give up control of the Capital Grants Scheme. Either it or the ISC should be the operations group; splitting that function makes no sense. Subsume the ISC or let it do the job.
  • The approach that the Councils know all and the NGBs are supplicants needs to be dropped like a faeces-covered potato. The people that the Councils and the NGBs should be working for are the athletes and the coaches. When they lose sight of that, we wind up… well, here actually.

What are the odds these things will happen?

Somehow I think the answer to that might be a bit too depressing for words 🙁

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