I have detailed below issues which I feel need to address to ensure high performance sport and the provision of a 2012 legacy for sport in Ireland.
1. High performance sport
I have been lobbying since my appointment in January 2006, for the production of a business plan based on the 2012 model for sports in the UK as they prepare for a home Games. The same plan as i was invoved in developing as deputy CEO at the British Olympic Association and with colleagues at UK Sport. This plan was to deliver a top 4 finish in the medal table in London. Its been achieved 4 years earlier than planned. A real step change can happen here also if we have the leadership, proper systems and investment in place.
Whilst the athlete numbers and overall investment for high performance sport in Ireland will not equate to the UK budget, the same principles can be applied to ensure we have a robust system for producing and developing our talented athletes.
At present NF’s use existing levels of performance funding to support their senior athletes and in reality there is minimal if any investment in talent id and development.
I believe that the business plan should be costed out on a ‘per athlete’ basis at 3 programme levels within a sports plan;
- Talent identification
- Podium programmes.
The IIS/NF can agree how many places they merit in each of the performance phases, and the degree of support required for implementation. This will provide a very simple method of costing what is required to have an additional place on any of the 3 programmes.
A people development strategy will naturally emerge when we know how many athletes need supported within programmes 1-3.
There are a range of scholarship and mentoring programmes that should be developed to ensure we create a legacy of people within the system. In the short term the system can import personnel but we need to ensure that they are world class and have produced world class athletes.
2. The Business Strategy
The business strategy requires the following steps:
- Scoping the pipeline from talent id to the podium
- Agreeing the goal
- Establishing the number of athletes of sufficient calibre required to fill the pipeline
- Specifying the number of support staff , infrastructure and operational costs required ( NF/IIS lead)
- Developing a meritocratic system for maximising the number of medal and medallists (e.g. rowing men’s 4 and team sports) from within the budget
- Specifying the national framework , central systems and services required to operate the programme (IIS lead)
- Ensure that the final preparation and delivery of performers into the Olympic arena is world class (OCI lead)
Only when these questions are answered and costed will we know the true costs, people resource, and system framework required to make it successful.
3. Key Principles
The business strategy mentioned above should follow the following principles;
- Investment in each sport must reflect existing performance levels and the potential for increased benchmarked performance by 2012;
- Sports must receive sufficient funding to operate their entire elite pathway, ideally from one single source (IIS) and be accountable to it;
- Investment in support services must be proportionate to this, ringfenced and appropriately delivered in true partnership with the core team for each sport.
4. Institute of Sport
It’s crucial that the IIS opportunity is not wasted and is used as a catalyst to drive a new way of thinking indicated above in order to make a step change. It needs to be lead by staff and a board with the skills set and budget required to make that step change.
If we continue with the same approach we will continue to go backwards. We have to question the monitoring and evaluation of these programmes over the past 7 years. It’s timely that the responsibility for high performance sport be handed over to the IIS, but only if it’s properly established.
We need to have a specialised agency led by staff and management board with the skills set to provide leadership, and a systematic approach to improve results of Irish athletes competing at European, World and Olympic level.
5. Irish Olympic Team for 2008
This year has been an extremely disappointing year overall in terms of results at World level. 3 medals at the 2008 Olympic Games papers over cracks in a very fragile system . Since 2000 investment in sport has increased but performance levels have not mirrored this.Targets set for High Performance Programmes are set at too low a level for the potential in this country. 34 million has been invested in this Olympic cycle and the Olympic sports should be expecting a better overall return for this investment.
The 2010 and 2012 Games will be on us very quickly, so we need to continue to lobby for the following;
- For those who are in high performance programmes we need to ensure that they have the best possible support in place to maximise their potential.
- For 2010/12 and beyond, we need to follow the business model highlighted earlier and link it to a strategy for high performance facility development.
- The IIS should be established as an independent agency responsible for high performance sport as soon as possible.
- The OCI should form a meaningful partnership with IIS to ensure the best possible support system and structures are put in place to ensure consistency in the long term.
- A number of sports appear to have major issues in managing high performance programmes. We need to ensure the National Federations are properly structured and empowered to deliver, working in close partnership with the IIS and the Olympic Council.
- Some of the smaller sports may wish to have their high performance athletes managed by an Institute performance manager, i.e. a multi sport group of athletes needs managed by a single IIS programme manager.
- Sports should merit support in either of the following ways: full sports programme support, or athlete “bubble sport”, or a new innovative programme based on future potential. The Irish system should be able flexible enough to research and fund discrete programmes in sports where success may be possible on a world stage. This includes some option in Winter sports.
- We need to ensure that our training and competition facilities for focus sports in particular are strategically planned to maximise capital resources available.
- A high performance facility strategy should be a priority if we are to help our athletes and maximise business from other National Olympic Committees who may wish to use Ireland as a pre-Games training base prior to London 2012.
- If we are to make an impact in high performance sport we need to provide the requisite amount of resources to ensure we fund focus sports to the levels required to produce consistency in the long term.
- Leadership and targeted investment is required otherwise we will never achieve the countries potential in Oympic Sport.