Sport NI, the leading public body for the development of sport, has serious concerns that any reduction to the sports budget will seriously impact on the very many specific benefits to be gained through the delivery of sports interventions across Northern Ireland.

Sport NI considers that the impact will not only be detrimental for the 2015/16 period but will also have a longer term negative effect within the sector for subsequent years, so putting at risk all of the sound work that has already achieved in this area.

Over recent year’s countries that have benefited most from investment in sport have done so through longer term investment, growing and sustaining sporting systems linking communities or grass roots sport with high performance. Benefits include, increasing participants in events linked to high profile sport events, economic and social regenerative impacts on local communities from major games and a visible pathway for people of all ages to get into sport, stay there and excel to a level of their choosing with attendant health benefits. Northern Ireland is directly benefiting from sport events and its nascent sport system will deliver sustainable benefits for participants at all levels through sustained investment.

WHY DO PEOPLE IN NORTHERN IRELAND VALUE SPORT?

People in Northern Ireland value sport as an important dimension of their culture and if given the chance to play, compete, spectate and volunteer there is evidence to suggest that they would do so more often if barriers were removed.

A survey of public attitudes to sport and physical recreation (2010), commissioned by Sport NI , reported that:

89% of the general public in Northern Ireland believe that it is important that athletes and teams from Northern Ireland achieve international success;
97% of the general public believes that the priority for Sport Northern Ireland funding should be to improve the opportunities for young people, in particular to help young people with sporting talent (97% agree), to give young people a good introduction to sport (97%) and to improve facilities in schools and colleges (95%); and
90% of participants of sport in Northern Ireland agree that sport has enabled them to mix with people from different religion, age groups, neighbourhoods and social groups.

WIDER IMPORTANCE OF SPORT

In addition to its intrinsic importance, there is a growing awareness of the significant contribution that sport can make to improve society. Some of these broader benefits are set out under the following themes:

1. Public health & wellbeing;
2. Growing the economy;
3. Community cohesion & social inclusion; and
4. Northern Ireland’s image, at home & abroad

1. CONTRIBUTING TO IMPROVED PUBLIC HEALTH

There is widespread consensus that sport can play a vital role in improving public health and wellbeing. For example, there is evidence to suggest that regular participation in sport and physical activity can:

Contribute to the reduction of illnesses; evidence has confirmed that regular participation in sport can reduce the risk of such as diabetes, some types of cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease ;
Promote mental well-being; evidence illustrates that physical activity can contribute positively to mental health having a positive effect on anxiety, depression, mood and emotion and self-esteem ;
Help to tackle obesity; obesity has become a major public health concern, not only in Northern Ireland, but globally. Rising levels of obesity rates, particularly among children has led the situation being described as an “epidemic”.



BENEFITS TO MENTAL HEALTH

“Participation in a one-off bout of physical activity can result in a reduction in anxiety levels and self-reported feelings of increased well-being. Such improvements have been reported to last for up to three hours after the activity session”


 

These impacts also have an economic dimension, for example Swales (2002) estimates that in relation to the under 75 year-old population in Northern Ireland, a reduction in the sedentary proportion of the population from 20% to 15% would have an overall economic benefit of £131m (lost output and medical costs) .

• The Foresight Report (2007) concluded that half the UK population could be obese by 2050 at a cost of £50 billion per year. However, upward trends in obesity levels suggest these conclusions could be optimistic and could be exceeded by 2050 .

 


HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

We spend £886 per head of population per year in providing what amounts to a national sickness service and we spend £1 per person per year on sports and physical activity which could actually prevent a lot of that sickness”


 

2. CONTRIBUTING TO THE ECONOMY

In 2010, the Sport NI commissioned the Sport Industry Research Centre to re-assess the economic contribution of sport . The picture of Northern Ireland is set out below.
• Consumer’s expenditure on sport in 2008 was £688m. This represents an increase of 54% over the 2004 figure.
• Sport and associated industries are estimated to employ in excess of 17,900 people corresponding to 2.3% of total employment in the region.
• Furthermore, the gross value added of 2.3% is greater than that of a similar UK region, North West England (1.7%) and North East England (2.0%).

3. CONTRIBUTING TO COMMUNITY COHESION AND SOCIAL INCLUSION

In recent years there has been a growing recognition of the ‘added value’ that sport can bring to communities in terms of promoting social inclusion, contributing to stronger communities and as a key generator of social capital .

Sporting activities and events can contribute to the development of stronger social networks and more cohesive communities by providing opportunities for social interaction, which strengthens community involvement, identity and civic pride. When there is an affinity with a team or individual the power of sport makes people feel good and a sense of sharing in the success of others from their country, county, town or community, which can be celebrated collectively.

4. CONTRIBUTING TO IMPROVING NI’S IMAGE

Northern Ireland is striving to improve its image at home and abroad following decades of civil and political unrest. Government is using a range of initiatives to improve Northern Ireland’s image. All are set in the context of a broader vision for a more sustainable, cohesive and prosperous society, which, in turn offers the visitor a world-class experience.

Sports events and activity tourism provide numerous opportunities for promoting Northern Ireland as a society that is flourishing and proud of its cultural identity. Major sporting events such as the following have all attracted international competitors, spectators, officials and media coverage:

i The World Cross Country Championships (1999);
ii The World Senior Amateur Boxing Championships (2001);
iii The World Women’s Squash Championships (2006);
iv The UEFA Under-19 Championship Finals (2005);
v The IRB Under 19 Rugby World Cup (2007);
vi The World Rally Championships (2008);
vii The World Dwarf Games (2009);
viii London 2012 Pre Games Training Camps (2011/2012)
ix World Police and Fire Games (2013); and
x Giro D’Italia Big Start (2014).

People in Northern Ireland believe that sports events project a positive image of the region. In addition, activity tourism [including golf, angling, cycling, hill-walking, sailing and equestrianism] attracts significant numbers of visitors, both international and domestic. Awareness of the opportunities offered and providing high quality experiences help improve the image of Northern Ireland at home and abroad.

IMPACT AND IMPLICATIONS OF BUDGET REDUCTIONS

The proposed budget reductions for Sport in 2015/16 will have significant detrimental and negative impacts and implications on the development of an effective sport system in Northern Ireland. Some of the key areas which may be impacted include:

• Activ8  This award winning programme of work is designed to promote the development of physically literate children and will address child poverty by encouraging children to participate in and complete at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

• Athlete Investment This programme of work is designed to support NI’s best and most talented athletes to train and compete at domestically and internationally.

• Disability Mainstreaming This programme of work is designed to increase opportunities for people with intellectual and physical and sensory disabilities to participate in sport and physical activity.

• Coach Development & Leadership This programme of work is designed to build the capacity and capability of the sports coaches/leaders to ensure that people are given the opportunity and support to participate, perform and excel in sport.

These are examples and not exhaustive. Critically Sport NI is embarking on a new corporate strategy which is important to achieving the best for sport and Sport NI as a highly performing team.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Sport matters to people in Northern Ireland. It affects people’s lives in many ways, contributing to health, education, community cohesion, and social inclusion and generating significant economic activity.

Sport has the capacity to lift the spirit of a nation; to provide direction and purpose; to develop leaders; and to teach lessons of endeavour, of winning and losing. Most of all, it has the capacity entertain and inspire people to get involved as a player, coach, leader, volunteer or spectator.

This paper demonstrates how investment in sport can Make Life Better for individuals and communities across Northern Ireland and provides evidence and that justifies continued and even greater levels of public investment in its development.

Given this we are urging the Executive to reconsider further cuts to sport and to view its contribution not as peripheral to, but central to enhancing the quality of life for in this region.

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