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open letter When it comes to equality of funding in sport in Ireland, it’s a case of a lot done, a lot left undone

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The Irish Olympic team will continue with their training camp plans

The Irish Olympic team will continue with their training camp plans

The Irish Olympic team will continue with their training camp plans

An Open Letter to the Minister for Sport

Dear Minister Chambers,

I guess you learned a harsh political lesson this week. Even when you do the right thing there can still be a backlash.

Your announcement on Monday that female Gaelic Games players would receive the same funding as their male counterparts represented a significant, if long overdue, breakthrough in the battle for equality in sport.

Currently male players receive €1,200 annually from the state, while female players get just €400. A total of €3.7m was paid by the government to support GAA players in 2020, €3m of which was paid to males and 700,000 to females.

Under the new scheme there will be no change in the amount paid to males, but the allocation for females will be trebled.

As you said on Claire Byrne Show: “It is absolutely important we have parity of esteem and equality when it comes to funding.”

The real issue is we don’t have parity of esteem or equality in sport funding in Ireland.

I’m sure you are familiar with George Orwell’s seminal novel ‘Animal Farm’ and the infamous phrase ‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’.

Sadly, that is the situation when it comes to funding elite sports people in Ireland.

By solving one glaring inequality you have opened a proverbial can of worms.

The timing of this announcement was all wrong as well.

The rescheduled Olympic Games are due to begin on July 23. So, there is more focus on individual amateur athletes than ever before.

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As you are aware, under the international carding scheme this year, the government will pay €2.68m directly to help 130 athletes and six squads in 16 sports to qualify and achieve medals at European, World, Olympic and Paralympic events.

The existing GAA male inter-county players scheme costs €3m, while the new female funding initiative costs €2.4m. This means that 67 percent of all government grants to Irish athletes in 2021 will be allocated to GAA county players.

Is that fair, Minister?

I fear the chickens will come home to roost if the Olympics go ahead in July. As a nation we invest a lot of emotional energy in how Irish athletes perform at these Games.

Frankly, few of us understand what it takes to win an Olympic medal. Irish athletes who qualify are heroes even before they board the plane for Japan.

Let’s consider the views of Olympian and former World champion Derval O’Rourke. She remembers struggling to pay her rent while trying to be the best hurdler in the world.

“We’re not a country that’s really preparing to send people to the Olympics to go really, really well. If we’re talking about approaching things differently and equality of treatment, then let’s look at how we approach all the funding in sport.

“It needs a drastic review. Where is it going? Why is it going there? What is the thinking? If you are an athlete getting €12,000 you are almost considered one of the lucky ones to prepare for an Olympic Games.

“Could you manage your life for a year on €12,000 and perform at the absolute highest level in your job? Probably not. So why are we expecting elite-athletes to do it.

“Being on the track at the Olympic Games is like you’re on a motorway and everybody else has got amazing cars.

“Sometimes I think with our athletes, we kind of put them out there on skateboards. And we’re going, ‘best of luck racing against those cars’.”

As for young athletes who dream of competing at future Olympic Games, the picture is even bleaker.

Let me tell you about three of the best Irish young female boxers, Daina Moorehouse, Lauren Kelly and Dearbhla Rooney.

A European gold medallist at underage level, Moorehouse is being touted as a worthy successor to her fellow county woman Katie Taylor.

Kelly and Rooney competed at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in 2018, where the latter won a bronze medal.

None of them have received government funding. They are all now in full-time employment

Full-time training is a must in boxing if international success is to be achieved at senior level. The trio will be lost to the sport forever unless somebody in authority takes a real interest in their fate.

And this is just an example of what’s happening on the ground. Nearly every sport has a similar story to tell.

So, Minster, when it comes to equality of funding in sport in Ireland, it’s a case of a lot done, a lot left undone.

Yours in sport,

Sean McGoldrick

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