Sport and Recreational Development

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 205 No. 16

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An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke Zoom on Paddy Burke I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle I welcome the Minister of State. My Adjournment matter relates to whether the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport intends to amend the Irish Sports Council Act 1999. I wish to ascertain the criteria for defining what is and is not a sport. I can fully understand that the Minister does not does not want to get directly involved in making such an adjudication, but I believe the legislation is deficient in its present form. Some principles should be inserted into an amendment of the legislation to allow the Irish Sports Council to better define what is and is not a sport. As of now there is too much emphasis on whether there is a physical aspect, whether it is an Olympic sport, and whether there is almost a televisual aspect to it. When compared with how sports are defined elsewhere, this is a very narrow definition.

First, the legislation should specify that among the criteria the Irish Sports Council should use in deciding whether an activity should be defined as a sport is the question of participation and whether it is an activity in which many people take part and from which many get enjoyment. Second is the question of agility and ability. In most sporting activities this is taken to be physical agility and ability. I argue that there are other aspects of the human character relating to a more rounded nature of who we are as people, and certainly mental agility and ability have as much reason to be considered as physical ability. Third is the question of spin-off effects and other benefits from defining an activity as a sports activity.

By way of example I will cite what is defined in this country as a pastime but in other countries as a sport, which is chess. Obviously it is not a physical activity but it requires a great deal of mental agility. Of the 27 European Union member countries, 23 already define chess as a sports activity and two other European countries that are not part of the European Union, Norway and Iceland, could be added to that number. It is an activity in which thousands of people take part. It is not a televisual sport or an Olympic activity, although organised chess competitions are known as Olympiads. Among the spin-off effects is that it fosters within young people in particular an ability that can be taken up in key subjects in our curriculum, subjects in which we are trying to improve the knowledge and ability of young people through our education system and in which if we had greater skills it would benefit the economy. I am thinking mainly about maths and science subjects. The way the activity is regarded in other countries is quite different from how we see it here. If we had the type of recognition provided in other European countries, those who promote the activity in this country, the Irish Chess Union in particular, could encourage people to visit Ireland to take part in competitions to promote Ireland as a tourist destination. We could get many benefits from just simply changing how we define something as a pastime or a sport.

On these grounds the criteria used by the Irish Sports Council under the present legislation are far too narrow. Giving the council almost total ability to decide the criteria for defining sports is not appropriate and the Minister, far from interfering in a process, could help in how we define other activities, not only chess, as sports by amending the legislation and allowing the criteria to be formed under certain identifiable characteristics. If this were done, we would have a more effective Irish Sports Council and the Minister could fulfil her brief more appropriately, not only in the sports aspect of her Department, but also in terms of tourism, artistic expression and the cultural aspect. Doing this would allow the Irish Sports Council to play a [982]more rounded role in promoting not only physical sports activities and those at the highest levels in those physical activities, but also what should be the real concept of sports activity, which is maximising participation and using that participation to give positive spin-off effects for the type of society in which we live. On those grounds, I hope the Department and the Minister might be more open to amending the Irish Sports Council Act 1999.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey): Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey I am taking this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Hanafin.

Sport plays a unique role in people's lives and never more so than in today's hectic environment. Everywhere we go, we see thousands of people involved in playing, coaching and administering the demanding and often complex area of sport. Active participation in sport and physical recreation contributes enormously to the physical and mental well-being of the individual and, by extension, of the entire community. Its value to the nation simply cannot be over-emphasised in raising our health levels, helping to give us a sense of ourselves and boosting our morale. Sedentary lifestyles are widespread in Ireland and throughout the world. The challenge now and for the foreseeable future is to extend people’s health expectancy or years of life free from illness or disability. There is a strong belief that sport has the potential to enrich the lives of all people and no one should feel that he or she could not benefit from physical activity.

Physical activity can have important benefits, not just for the individual but also for society. Sport can be promoted as an alternative to anti-social behaviour, but more than that, it develops the personal skills of individuals. Values such as tolerance, self-discipline, team spirit and strength of character are demanded, practised and promoted. In this way, sport serves as an indispensable educational tool in schools and colleges and in the wider community. Given the benefits associated with sports activities, the Government regards expenditure on sport as important for the social and economic development of the country. As mentioned, these benefits arise in a wide range of areas, including health and well-being, social and cultural development, education, personal development, tourism and the economy. It can also play a valuable role in tackling social exclusion, and this is particularly true for young people.

The Irish Sports Council has a statutory role in the promotion, development and co-ordination of sport. The council is funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport and has received more than €366 million in funding since it was set up in July 1999. The allocation in 2010 is almost €50 million. The council was established on a statutory basis on 1 July 1999 and its functions are outlined in section 6 of the Irish Sports Council Act 1999. The key functions are encouraging the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport; developing strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport and co-ordinating their implementation by all Irish bodies involved in promoting recreational sport and providing recreational sport facilities; facilitating good standards of conduct and fair play in both competitive and recreational sport; combating doping in sport; initiating and encouraging research concerning competitive or recreational sport; and facilitating research and disseminating information concerning competitive or recreational sport.

The two primary functions are the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive and recreational sport. Section 6(1)(a) of the Irish Sports Council Act 1999 provides that one of the functions of the council is “to encourage the promotion, development and co-ordination of competitive sport and the achievement of excellence in competitive sport”. Section 6(1)(b) provides that the council has responsibility for developing “strategies for increasing participation in recreational sport and to co-ordinate their implementation by all bodies (including [983]public authorities and publicly funded bodies) involved in promoting recreational sport and providing recreational facilities”. In that regard, the Irish Sports Council has been central to developing sporting ability leading to high performance, while at the same time driving participation levels in conjunction with the national governing bodies of sport, local sports partnerships, the Irish Institute of Sport, Coaching Ireland and the Olympic and Paralympic Councils.

Specific elements of the participation strategy of which Senators may be aware which continue to be implemented by the Irish Sports Council include the development and implementation of the code of ethics and code of practice for children’s sport in Ireland; the Buntús programme; the support of the national governing bodies of sport, including the three major field sports, the GAA, the FAI and the IRFU; the women in sport initiative; sports inclusion development officers and the go for life programme. On the high performance front, the council initiatives include high performance funding and performance planning; the international carding scheme; the Team Ireland Golf Trust and the Irish Institute of Sport.

The Minister informs me there are no plans to amend the legislation, but I will bring the Senator’s comments to her attention for her consideration.

Senator Dan Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle Zoom on Dan Boyle The nature of the matter I raised was general because the Minister has no specific responsibility in deciding what is or is not a sports activity. Given that the Minister of State has cited section 6(1)(a) and (b) in terms of competitive and recreational activity, the content of my contribution refers to consideration of the need to be more specific in the Irish Sports Council Act and to allow the Irish Sports Council to define as sport activity in other countries which is defined as sport. Perhaps he will bring this to the Minister’s attention.

Deputy Seán Haughey: Information on Seán Haughey Zoom on Seán Haughey I will do so.

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