The value of sport to us individually and societally, has become so much more apparent, as a result of losing it from our lives during COVID 19, when we complied with restrictions and regulations. The emotional, mental and physical wellbeing we feel when we enjoy competitive and fun social sport with others in our communities is needed now more than ever, as we emerge and recover from this pandemic. Furthermore the case for investment in sport to address the ongoing mental health and physical health issues in our society is strong, particularly with a sharp focus on giving young people the best start and including groups who find it hard to access.
The diverse sports sector and it’s valuable volunteers have provided a Trojan effort together to survive and adapted quickly to support our communities during COVID 19 and will continue selflessly to support our communities to survive, recover and thrive as we emerge and build back better.
- The Sports Hardship Fund was developed with funding from the Department of Communities to respond to immediate financial hardship in the sports sector caused by COVID19 and provided 913 grants up to £3,000, to a total of £2,259,000.
- The COVID Safe Sports Packs Programme was made available to provide up to 2,500 packs worth £800,000; to enable a safe return to sport and was funded by the Department for Communities.
- The Sports Sustainability Fund developed with the Department for Communities, and co-designed with the sports sector, the programme principles included: transparency; consistency; equality and inclusion. The eligibility criteria were established to support due diligence iwith dedicated support for governing bodies who needed it. The Sports Sustainability has offered funding to 31 sports through their governing bodies of sport to date, totaling £22.5M. 78% of all funding awarded or approximately £18million, has been allocated to sports clubs. More than 412 clubs have benefited from the Sports Sustainability Funding.
We have been reminded that working together as a sector has been highly effective. It is also important that if any clubs or sporting organisations have fallen through the net that they can contact Sport NI at email@example.com, so we can consider how to best support them. We aim to continue working with governing bodies of sport, clubs and communities to ensure that no-one is left behind at this time. We are also encouraging our political representatives to signpost clubs to Sport NI where there is continued need for support.
We are now tentatively entering a phased Return to Sport, and we continue to support our sports and your communities so that everyone can enjoy sport again – and for the first time. We know the sports sector comprises of valued and skilled volunteers, who selflessly serve their sports and communities. We also know and that our diverse and broad sector needs to build capacity and capability now. Supporting Sport to Build Back Better is Sport NI’s response to what we have learnt so far and utilises our National Lottery funds as we emerge from COVID 19 so that we are more resilient, connected and creative than before.
- DEVELOPING CAPABILITITY: People Development – Business Development – – Mental Health & Well-being – Connectivity
- SUPPORT FOR GOVERNING BODIES: Extension of Sporting Clubs and financial support for those governing bodies previously not in receipt of that funding
- PROJECT REBOOT: Grants for Innovative Projects – Equality Projects and Partnership Projects.
As we plan for a phased return to sport, our next strategic focus will be the co-design of a sporting system for Northern Ireland, which utilizes the expertise and resources of our strategic partners. We relish the opportunity to work with partners in sport, health, education, councils and communities, so that everyone here can adopt and sustain participation in physical activity, sport and physical recreation and so that we continue to support our athletes and teams to become among the best in the world.
We have learnt much in the last months; Our clear intent (and that of the Minister and Department for Communities) has been to sustain a sector so that it forms a key role in the recovery and resilience strategies as we emerge from Covid-19. We have all experienced the impact of not having sport in our lives and we need it now more than ever – supporting our school and colleges, health and social care colleagues and local communities. Could we have done things differently of better? Maybe; Probably… and we look forward to the added scrutiny which planned reviews will bring to our learning. With hindsight, working in an volatile and uncertain environment, we always find ways we could have worked smarter; I know we could not have worked harder. As we approach our Easter break, I want to pay tribute to the staff of Sport NI and our colleagues in DfC and the sports sector, who have continually stepped up, again and again, in the last year; working weekends, evenings, over holidays to ensure our sector and communities were sustained.
Thanks to the NI Executive and Minister Hargey, the sports eco-system will flourish again, so that we give our children the best start in life; we ensure we all live healthy, active lives and reach our full potential; that we support our people and economy to thrive. Thanks to our work together, we are demonstrating the power of sport to achieve these – and to change lives.
Sport NI wishes everyone a happy, healthy and safe Easter.