In our latest post “Economic Impact of Sport in the EU” John explored the economic impact of sport in the EU. It can be seen from the bubbles in the graphic that Ireland is lower than in most countries, with sport accounting for 1.68% of total employment and 1.03% GDP. The impact that the cessation of sports fixtures as a result of Covid-19 will therefore be smaller on the Irish economy than it is in many other EU states.
It is interesting to consider this further.
There is very little professional sport in Ireland. The most recent CSO sports module in 2013 found that almost all sport in Ireland is non-professional. Rugby reported the highest number of professional/semi-professional athletes at 5.1%. Other professional sports people in Ireland are found in dance and gym related activities. Then there are the elite individual athletes that are either funded through Sport Ireland or very successful in their sport and are household names e.g. Shane Lowry and Katie Taylor spring to mind.
After rugby, the only other team sport with sizable employment is soccer. However, just 0.2% of players here are paid. The domestic league probably employees about 400-500 players on professional and semi-professional contracts. Clubs are now in serious financial trouble as fixtures have ground to a halt. The primary source of income is gate receipts and one can only wonder what is going to happen to players and other staff in the coming weeks. (More on this next week).
It is interesting to compare the current fate of the League of Ireland with another Irish sport – horse racing. Horse racing is not considered a “sport” but rather an industry in Ireland for data purposes and probably employees about 3,500-5,000 people directly. Indirect employment is much higher. If direct employees were included, the number of professional sports people working in Ireland would jump considerably.
Horse racing continues in Ireland – behind closed doors. Today Dundalk goes ahead. Tomorrow Thurles. Down Royal is on Sunday. Naas Monday. Clonmel Tuesday. Dundalk again next Wednesday. And Cork next Thursday.
Irish soccer cannot proceed like this. The reason racing can is because gate receipts are not terribly important. The broadcasting agreement with Racing TV trumps this. Irish soccer has no major broadcasting agreement. It suffers badly because of this.
The domestic game in Ireland will require support if it is to survive. This might mean State support through Sport Ireland or elsewhere. No domestic league means no national team. No Euro 2021. No World Cup in 2022.