Thomas Pringle TD

Pringle: Small sport clubs and associations need state support

Pringle: Small sport clubs and associations need state support

Independent TD for Donegal, Thomas Pringle, told the Council of Europe that small clubs and associations are the backbone of the European sports movement, and need the support of the state.

He also said the Council of Europe has a role to play in ensuring that professional football does not prioritise business over values.

Deputy Pringle said: “The value of sport, both high level professional and grassroot level, cannot be underestimated at this time and I think that that is one of the lessons of the pandemic.”

The deputy is in Strasbourg, where he took part this morning in Council of Europe debates on the council reports, “Sports policies in times of crisis” and “Football governance: Business and values”. He was speaking on behalf of the Unified European Left group.

The deputy said: “As the report says, small clubs and associations are the backbone of the European sports movement, nurturing local participation and community belonging.”

Deputy Pringle said the returns for the state and society pay dividends. He said as well giving people an outlet during lockdown, local sporting organisations also provided community supports in the early stages of the pandemic by having an available pool of volunteers to ensure a widespread response that helped the vulnerable in society.

However, Deputy Pringle said, funding for sports at a national level is critical and the large drop in sponsorship – 26 per cent in Ireland, one of the highest in Europe – “shows that we cannot rely fully on the private sector to support organisations”.

Deputy Pringle agreed with the report’s observation that, “we need to value sport’s strong interconnections with other sectors such as health, education, tourism, construction, transport, research and innovation, digital transition, green transformation, media and retail”, saying, “It shows the interconnectedness of all of society. The constant attempt to siphon off the profitable uses for the private sector does not ultimately benefit society.

“Ultimately it is the state that must pick up the slack and save the day,” he said.

He said: “I think that if states and politicians were honest with themselves and their communities, the lesson from the pandemic in terms of sport and wider society is that we need a state that can pick up the slack for the benefit of everyone.”

In relation to professional football, Deputy Pringle asked: “Are we really to believe that there is any value left in football when we see how the major clubs behave across Europe, and how FIFA has behaved with the giving of the World Cup to Qatar?”

The deputy said FIFA may now be doing what it can to improve the situation. “And that may be down to organisations like ours in getting involved and trying to drive change within football, but it is my distinct impression that FIFA was dragged to this point rather than wanting to do something for the rights of workers,” he said.

Deputy Pringle said the Council of Europe has a role to play, “when we consider that there are many large European companies that are operating in Qatar and looking to profit from the World Cup. They should be made to ensure the protection of human rights in their work.”

In saying that, Deputy Pringle added, “It is welcome that FIFA appear to be on board in improving the situation and that is something that must continue after the World Cup this year. Unfortunately, in Ireland FIFA would not be known as a bastion of rights-based work and would be known more for financial irregularities, and it would be extremely welcome if that were to change.”