Galway City Tribune - Opinion Piece
Olympics’ legacy must be the funding of sport and leisure at all levelsAugust 16, 2012 - 5:22pm
If the Olympic games – after all of its incredible highs over the last week – is to have a lasting legacy, it has to come in the form of investment in the future of Irish sport.
And that’s not just about ensuring that we don’t allow future generations of Olympians slip through the cracks; it is also about allowing all to enjoy a healthier lifestyle by providing access to leisure and sporting facilities in their towns and villages.
We saw from the Olympics how an investment in a high performance programme yielded such incredible results for the boxers in particular. And we saw how the growing use of the waters around our shores was reflected in the number of sailors able to compete at the highest level.
The British team did the same when they invested in cycling and swimming in particular – and in both codes, they reaped huge rewards to backbone their overall Olympic haul.
So there’s no secret to sporting success; you must invest in it at all levels, so that on one hand the stars of tomorrow are coached and trained to fulfil their potential, but also that the children who might never scale those lofty heights also have access to pursuits that will give them a healthier lifestyle.
And the reality is that, if we are to shine on the international stage, we must have the best facilities, the top coaches and international standard back-up on lifestyle and diet to leave nothing to chance.
Of course there are those who will point out that we have enjoyed huge success in the past – on the track, for example – but the foundations for the medals won on the international stage by Ronnie Delaney and John Treacy and Sonia O’Sullivan were laid on sports scholarships in the US.
And when our soccer team heads for World Cups or European Championships, they do so having refined their skills at their English clubs, because they have long left these shores in pursuit of their dream.
That’s not to undermine or disrespect the coaches and trainers who nurtured them from childhood at home, but the real work – the elite coaches, the world-class facilities – was in Villanova or providence, or in the case of our footballers on the training grounds of clubs across the UK.
Equally it is important to acknowledge that, without the tireless voluntary work of thousands of coaches and kit men and trainers and officials, there would be no raw material to mould into champions. And they are utterly entitled to claim their share of the glory too.
But to get to the next level – the highest level – you must create high performance programmes. And that costs money.
However, Sports Minister Michael Ring told Galway Bay FM last week that – while he entirely accepted the importance of financial support for sport – nothing could be guaranteed in the current climate, and that at least was an honest response.
But even with the purse strings tightened to breaking point, the government must find the money to promote sport and recreation at all levels.
A slice of it can come from the health budget because, on one level, this is about a healthier lifestyle for all and, on the other, creating heroes to inspire a generation – and the government could do worse than earmark a portion of the admittedly declined education budget to sport on the same basis.
This is about creating role models for a better future; young men and women who inspire a generation, who lift the hearts of a nation and restore a sense of national pride during the darkest economic period in our country’s history.
And ensuring that is one of the things that differentiates a country from a mere economy – because even when times are tough, a nation must invest in its people, be they international athletes who bring glory to their shores or youngsters who need the facilities to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
It should be seen as an investment in our future as well as a legacy of our past achievements – and both of those make it a price worth paying.