Irish Sailing joins attack on Ivan Yates

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Updated: August 28, 2011

The furore over Ivan Yates comments on Olympic Games funding, especially of minority sports, at the expense of Education and Health rumbles on. Readers may recall that on his recent Breakfast Show Yates chose to intimidate 21 years old Dun Laoghaire sailor, Annalise Murphy and fellow panellists Kilkenny boxer, Darren O’Neill, swimmer Barry Murphy and 400metres Athlete David Gillick , but particularly Ms Murphy and Gillick questioning the value of sports funding at a time when the country was suffering financially.

First off, George Hook, also a Newstalk presenter took Yates to task later that morning on his mid day show.And rightly so. It would have been acceptable to pose such questions to Government officials such as Leo Varadkar, Michael Ring or to Irish Sports Council officials like John Treacy or Eamon Coghlan but his aggressive attitude towards Gillick and Ms Murphy simply showed him up in a bad light particularly as the piece seemed badly researched .

The Sunday Independent added: “During the course of a run-of-the-mill outline of what it takes to qualify for the games, Yates became fixated on the cost of sport to the taxpayer.

Annalise Murphy, currently in the world top 10, told Yates it costs approximately €50,000 a year for her to compete, which she covers through a grant of €20,000, donations and help from her family. This drew a rant from the former government minister.

“Your particular sport, sailing, grand if your dad wants to spend 50 grand on you but why should the taxpayer be interested in this? I mean like there is no commercial sponsor obviously going to pay the cost of it, the taxpayer has to do it — it’s a minority sport, it doesn’t have a big audience, we’ll be interested for a day in the Olympics, it’ll make a footnote on the 9 o’clock news and we wish you well but where’s the value for the taxpayer when we don’t have the money for schools and hospitals?”

The Sunday Indo went on: “Apart from the fact that asking athletes to justify their relatively small grants is, if truth be told, dodgy territory for a man who has been handsomely rewarded by the taxpayer down the years in terms of pay, pension and expenses, Yates should also know that bringing health and education up to make his point was a cheap shot.

The health budget this year is almost €13billion, the education budget is approximately €8bn. The spend on sport is a fraction of that, estimated this year at €117m, of which just €7.8m goes in direct grants to athletes.

Yates knows full well that the amount of money spent each year on health and education is far less of an issue than how it is spent. And while the same may well be true in sport, he should get department officials, representatives of the Irish Sports Council and the various governing bodies into studio if he wants to pursue that line.

It is they who make the key decisions about how to allocate government funding, and it is they who determine which athletes merit support. Athletes know they must then justify this support in terms of performance, a point made by Gillick on Thursday, or the funding will dry up”.

Later this week, as many more commentators had joined in, mainly siding with the sports stars, the Irish Sailing Association, in an unusual step for a sporting organisation communicated its wrath, officially, to Newstalk:

“It is rare that we respond to public comment but the tone of Ivan Yates interview last week on Newstalk with Annalise and a number of other athletes needs a response. Here is what we emailed Newstalk:

“Thanks to George for bringing in a bit of balance to the completely lopsided interview that Ivan Yates conducted yesterday morning. (George Hook took Ivan to task later the same day on his show The Right Hook)

To target the hardworking athletes for wasting taxpayers money was completely unfair and was just trying to appeal to the high level of frustration out there with the state the country is in at the moment. While this frustration is justified to make the athletes the target is not.

They are not the ones wasting tax payers’ money. In the overall scheme of things the funding the sports council gets each year from government is a drop in the ocean (approx. 50-60million) in terms of the overall budget spend and it is still one of the smallest developed country allocations to sport.

If banks and commercial institutions had applied the same kind of rigorous criteria the athletes have to achieve before even seeing one red cent, it is likely that we would have a much stronger nation. Every sport has to apply annually for the Irish Sports Council funding and the application is assessed on objective criteria primarily based around performance targets. If you hit targets you get support, simple as that.

No Olympic athlete I know is “making” money they are just about getting enough in to cover their costs of campaigning. The athletes all approach their sport in a wholly professional manner most are doing it full-time but every piece of grant aid or support they receive goes into their campaign, they are not building up property portfolios or taking out mortgages.

What they are doing is representing Ireland on the international stage and the athletes success reflects well on the nation. Ireland competing on the international stage also strengthens our case for hosting international events which not only showcase Ireland as a destination but also generates significant income for the local economy. The Volvo Ocean race brought in €55m in economic benefit to the West of Ireland when Galway hosted one of the stopovers.

If we all subscribed to Ivan’s narrow view of the world we would all end up being couch potatoes watching sport on TV taking place in foreign countries and costing the tax payer a hell of a lot more money trying to solve the problems a sedentary lifestyle would bring to bear on the health system.

It is a shame Yates decided to take the negative line with these young people who inspire 100’s of kids within their own sports and potentially will have an even wider impact if successful at the Olympic games. We should be cheering on these athletes and getting behind them not trying to pull the rug from underneath them while attempting to make amends for the errors of others”.

Strong words from the usually ‘quiet and reserved’ Irish Sailing Association.

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