There is a lot to learn for Pakistan from the sports development approach of Ireland which is trying to rise from a mid-level sporting nation
Ireland with a population of only 6.65 million is the 20th largest island which is bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.
Ireland has been participating in the Olympics since 1924 and its sports federations represent both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Athletics, swimming, golf, rugby, boxing, rowing, sailing, and equestrian are the popular sports in Ireland, in which Irish men and women have won a total of 35 Olympic medals to date. Irish men’s and women’s field hockey teams are at No 13 in IHF standing. The Ireland cricket team got Test status in 2017. They played their first-ever Test against Pakistan in May 2018.
The Irish Olympic sports journey is not as admirable as American, Chinese, or British but it’s National Sports Policy 2018-2027 is worth probing as it promotes inclusion, foster collaborations within and beyond sports sectors, emphasizes excellent ethical standards, encourages innovation and has a clear accountability framework that paves the way for greater achievements in competitive sports. s
Mr Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport in his foreword of the sports policy states that increasing the participation of masses is the cornerstone of their sport policy.
Mr. Brendan Griffin, the Minister of State for Tourism and Sports, states that high performance does not happen by accident but is the result of meticulous planning, perseverance and dedication. He further emphasizes that community involvement in sports begins in early childhood, but it has no upper age limit.
In the policy paper the Irish authorities have admitted that physical inactivity amongst the youth has been estimated to cost Ireland approximately 1.5 billion Euro per year and regular participation in sports and physical activity can make people 14 years younger than their biological age which greatly helps in reducing depression, anxiety, psychological distress and emotional disturbance.
The policy paper also refers to the research undertaken by Sheffield Hallam University carried out on a sample of 1200 Irish students that testifies the beneficial effect of sports on academic performance.
Instead of just winning a few gold medals by investing huge amounts of money, the Irish Sports Vision 2027 states that, “People will be inspired, their lives enriched, their enjoyment enhanced, and their quality of life improved as a result of their own activity or social participation in sports.
“All entities in our sporting community will be highly regarded for the quality of their staff and volunteers, their standard of governance, ethics and accountability, and their spirit of collaboration including with partners beyond the sporting sector.”
As already stated, the Irish sport policy is not just focusing on the development of a few elite sports but has a larger agenda with long-term commitment. According to the “Keeping in Game” report published in Ireland almost 90% of children were participating at least once a week in organised sports activity in school by the age 10-12. But the report identified that many of these younger children give up sports in adolescence and adulthood. Thus, in order to meet the National Physical Activity Guidelines it is stressed that children must participate in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
The Irish sport policy strongly advocates the aspect of physical literacy which revolves around the fundamental motor skill development of children at a very young age.
The State support in Ireland is not just in terms of training camps and infrastructure support to the athletes but the state support is provided by a national curriculum framework, a national quality framework and diversity, equality and inclusion guidelines which serve as foundations to promote physical literacy.
All primary teachers in Ireland are trained, as part of initial teacher education, to deliver the full spectrum of the Primary Curriculum including physical education. The policy paper stresses that there is a need to empower physical education staff, and to make available good sports equipment so that physical education can be effectively delivered across all standards.
The Irish sports experts are of the view that National Governing Bodies (NGBs) have a vital role in developing a more physically literate cohort of young children. The policy paper states that those sports projects will be priorities that develop multisport, multi-use options around mass participation. The government will also encourage team and individual sports to work together and all sports bodies should cooperate with local authorities, schools, universities and local sports clubs.
The sports ministry of Ireland recognizes the benefits of having a comprehensive and up-to-date database of sports facilities and sports persons across the country so that a long-term strategy can be adopted, linking sports with local development plans.
Targeting high-performance sports the government has established a large-scale sports infrastructure fund (LSSIF) with the primary objective to increase the active participation of the population and also provide state-of-the-art training facilities to elite sportsmen.
The government has also outlined its national swimming strategy in its sports policy separately. While aquatics form one key element in the PE curriculum at both primary and post-primary school levels, a considerable capital investment under the Local Authority Swimming Pool Program (LASSP) has been made in Ireland. The government is of the view that every child should learn to swim as an essential life skill.
Ireland also has a state-of-the-art National Sports Campus for the training of elite sportspersons and the development of coaching staff at the national level for 27 different sports. The government is now paying special attention to tapping corporate resources for the development of sports. The government of Ireland like Denmark is considering collaborative models, where sponsorship and TV rights are sold as a bundle for a number of sports with the revenue then benefitting all sports, including those which would normally earn less than others.
There is a lot to learn for Pakistan from the Irish sports development approach which is trying to rise from a mid-level sporting nation in competitive sports with a relatively smaller population, to a high sports achiever at the Olympics and other international competitions.
We must stop daydreaming and experimenting aimlessly and learn from the strategies and approaches adopted by different countries which are seriously investing in all aspects of sports development in a holistic manner.
Aamir Bilal is an eminent sports analyst with expertise in sports management and sports for development