We can take on world’s best and win – a look back on an incredible year for Irish sport as tourism to hit record high
‘We may be a small island nation, but we have proven we can take on global giants in whatever sport we put our minds to’.
WHAT a year to be an Irish sports fan.
Our rugby team beat the trio of giants from the Southern Hemisphere — Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The country — north and south — came together to launch a serious bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. In 2017, we will host the Women’s Rugby World Cup at stadia all over Ireland. Meanwhile in soccer, Martin O’Neill’s boys won the match that propelled us to the top of our group in Austria last month — and makes qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia all the more likely. We are set to host four matches during Euro 2020.
Our Olympians and Paralympians inspired millions with their dedication and commitment to their disciplines at the Rio Games and our elite ¬golfers continue to command the world stage. Today is one of the most famous horseracing days of the year when many of us will be heading to Leopardstown or Limerick for a flutter.
We’re known to be experts in all things equine so it’s hardly surprising that the horse industry — sporting and breeding — contributes more than €1.1billion annually to the economy. We may be a small island nation, but we have proven we can take on global giants in whatever sport we put our minds to. I’d like to thank all who contribute so much to the success of our sports industry professionally, but particularly those volunteers and amateurs whose sporting and coaching commitments to their communities are truly priceless. Simultaneously, 2016 is set to be the best year ever for overseas tourism to Ireland — surpassing all previous records.
The latest CSO figures confirm over 8.9 million people visited in the first 11 months of 2016. That is an amazing 11 per cent increase by the end of November — and rising. To say this is an exciting time to be Minister of both the Sport and Tourism portfolios is an understatement. Last week I was delighted to announce that €30million is being made available under the Sports Capital Programme to develop sports infrastructure around the country. This programme has transformed the sporting landscape of Ireland with improvements in virtually every village, town and city. I’d strongly urge all sports and community organisations with a suitable project to make an application. Sports tourism used to be a niche market but it’s now a major part of our economic and social infrastructure. And why not combine our country’s love of sport and our warm welcome for visitors with economic benefits? It is a win-win for all involved.
At last month’s Global Sports Tourism Awards in London, Ireland was shortlisted in no fewer than eight out of nine categories. The opportunities presented by sports tourism are boundless and the figures involved staggering. Currently, the global sports tourism industry is worth a cool €450bn. Each year, for example, 150,000-plus golfers come here to play on our golf courses, adding about €200m to the economy. Conservative estimates of what hosting the Rugby World Cup would add to Irish coffers are in the region of €8bn. Whether it’s to celebrate a win or drown sorrows, sports tourists tend to spend double the amount regular tourists do, so this is a huge opportunity for us to capitalise upon — locally and nationally.
• APPLY for sports grants at www.sportscapitalprogramme.ie