April 2nd, 2014. Senator Jillian Van Turnhout speaking on the issue of Participation in Sport: Statements. Seanad Éireann
I welcome the Minister. I particularly welcome his openness to all sports and like the emphasis he placed on increasing the participation of women and young people in sport. We need to pay greater attention to this aspect. Previous speakers have referred to the positive role sports play and the benefits are endless. We have a proud sporting tradition in Ireland. One of our proudest moments as a nation was, undoubtedly, hosting the Special Olympics which highlighted our national strengths and celebrated our wonderful athletes.
Sports have many positive effects on society and, as legislators, we have a role in increasing participation and interest. Colleagues have referred to the economic benefits, but I would focus on the physical benefits and mental well-being of society. If we can improve mental and physical well-being positively, this will reduce health care spending in the long term, which everyone would like to see.
The Minister mentioned the GAA. I will not get into the current debacle about pay-per-view television and so on. However, he referred to emigrant clubs. One person tweeted me and asked about creating a role for these clubs which promote the GAA abroad and giving them a voice. There should be a two-way conversation.
Like many colleagues, I was on the edge of my seat as I watched the Six Nations match between Ireland and France which demonstrated the power of sport. We all became video referees that day in deciding on whether there was a forward pass. I congratulate the team, but I also congratulate the national women’s rugby team on its success last year.
We have a fantastic history in sport and the development of new sports. One example is the mixed martial arts, MMA, fighter Conor McGregor who is promoting the sport on the world stage and acting as a role model for a different group of young people by promoting new possibilities in sport. We must encourage the development of new sports. It is imperative that we recognise the contribution of Irish women on the sports field because they encourage participation. Katie Taylor brought back a gold medal from the Olympics Games held in London in 2012. Little work was done in the country while her gold medal fight was on. The participation of females in sport can sometimes be under-reported. It is welcome that RTE has begun to broadcast women’s rugby matches, but I would like other sports to be treated more equally. I do not expect coverage to be equal, but it needs to increase. It is welcome that women’s rugby games are being moved from lesser stadiums to the main grounds such as Wembley Stadium and the Aviva Stadium. This should be encouraged in other fields.
I spoke to a camogie player who wanted to participate in women’s rugby 7s as an opportunity to go to the Olympic Games. Opportunities are opening in sports to be part of the games. Paralympic sports have also developed. I recently read a fascinating article about wheelchair hurling and how it was developing. The possibilities are endless. While preparing for the debate, I learned more about ultimate frisbee and tag rugby. Cricket has also become popular at grassroots level, given the national team’s success. I know many young people who are involved in the sport. Initiatives such as the get-into-cricket scheme are welcome because they provide a significant boost for the game.
We should support all sports to enhance choice. One of the issues I have relates to schools. If pupils attend a large school, they usually have a choice of sports to play, but they do not in small schools. Children are either good or bad at a sport and may not necessarily be exposed to other sports.
That is why I wanted to raise the issue of the French municipalities and the centres sportifs. Bringing sports together in a community is something we really need to look at. We must decide whether club or community will dominate. I would like to see that communities would have a stronger role and when we, as a State, are investing, we encourage organisations to come together.
The Minister mentioned the GAA. In my community, it is not the sole sporting organisation which will have territorial rights on pitches and on its turf where one cannot use it. Even though those pitches and sporting facilities lie idle during certain times of the day and certain times of the year, they have a dominance at one time, they lie idle, but they belong to that sporting discipline and they cannot share it. We need to look at how we can encourage people to share. When we are looking at the sports capital grants, we should ask what other sports in the community will be able to use this facility when it is not actively being used by the particular sporting discipline.
We need to discourage fragmentation and give young people the opportunity, as they do in France, where there can have different sports, such as tennis, swimming and rugby, under the one roof together, working in harmony rather than being seen to be in that competitive space, because we need to give people an exposure to the different types of sports.
I say, “Well done”, to the Minister on the Giro D’Italia. I wish Ireland every success in the tender for the rugby world cup. It is great to see us coming together as an island to work to hopefully bring it here in 2023. Sport is of immense importance.
I thank my colleagues in Fine Gael for moving this motion. It has given me an opportunity to research and learn more, which is part of our role as Senators.
I will finish with a powerful quote that I found from a US legend, Dean Karnazes. He said, “Some seek the comfort of their therapist’s office, others head to the corner pub and dive into a pint, but I chose running as my therapy.” That sums up sport. We should be encouraging people to get out and participate in a community. That is what we should be looking for as a society.