Heskin lays out challenges for Irish hockey in 2013

While Wednesday’s budget saw sport not suffer the forecast cuts of 5pc, Irish Hockey chief executive Mike Heskin did warn that hockey will have a serious fight for funding in 2013.

The Irish Sports Council saw their income cut by 2.9pc, continuing the downward trend of the past few years, and Heskin said, during an impassioned speech at last Sunday’s SGM, that gaining a significant portion of funds will be no mean feat.

With 63pc of the high performance programme – including the senior men and women’s budgets – coming from the Sports Council that deduction in their funding could well have a knock-on effect.

How that will tally with a 2013 that could potentially see six major international tournaments combined with all the additional preparation costs is difficult to see levelling out.

“The problems we’ve gone through this Autumn will be with us again. There is no doubt about it,” Heskin said
In February, the men are off to India for World league round two which is likely to cost €78,000 with between €15-18,000 for a training camp. On the women’s side, their trip to Spain is pitched at €45-48,000 and a training camp on top of that.

With Europeans in Belgium also confirmed and World League round three dates depending on February’s performances, it shows the level of finance required.

And Heskin explains the timing of applications for funding comes at a particularly awkward time from a cash-flow perspective.

“I don’t know where that money is going to be. I’ve already had a meeting with Sports Council last week to ask what will be to giving us money soon.

“The situation with funding is that the application for funding goes in in January. They will then make a decision at the end of February and by March. We will have already competed in India and Spain. I’ve already said to the Sports Council we need some of our money front-loaded. The amount of money it is, we don’t know yet.”

In addition, the nature of team sports does not tally particularly well with the most recent Sports Council literature.

“Let’s put that in context. The document for high performance funding from the Sports Council is called the Road to Rio. That tells you in very definite terms what this funding is all about. The Olympics, nothing else.

“In the first paragraph, funding will be determined by ability to produce medals. Now, at the Olympics in London, Ireland sent 66 athletes.

“You have civil servants sitting down looking at sport. We are in a competitive environment. Hockey has to show why it should get the nod above other sports – probably 17 sports – to get our share.

“One of the questions on the first page of the document is how many Olympic medals are available to your sport? In hockey the answer is two. Do the maths for swimming, boxing, athletics.

“In real terms, with 66 athletes, there was the bones of 50 medals available for Ireland. We will send two teams – and how much they cost in terms of personnel – who add the sum total of two medals to the potential haul. That is how we are being viewed.

“It would be naïve not to have that conversation with ourselves in this room. We need to send almost a great number than 50pc of the entire Olympic team to Rio.

If you’re a civil servant looking at where to spend your money, we have a very hard and difficult task to justify our existence.

“The Sports Council can satisfy their remit, they can give us national coaches, support, physiotherapy, all the other areas they give other sport but they may say to us, the amount of athletes and type of competition over the four years, that is a decision. Hockey has a difficulty because of the way it is structured internationally. “

“We had a wonderful run but the bottom line is we did not qualify. We need to recognise the challenge and face it head on and not pretend its not there. We’ve come through a wonderful years of hockey but we didn’t get to London and that is where we are in the pecking order.

“We need to regroup, focus on what we need to do and get these teams funded. Controlling our money is absolutely essential and that is the message here today.

“Equally, hockey needs to be putting a good image for hockey out there. We need to be talking ourselves up, say we’re doing a good job, that we have teams worth supporting and put their money in their pocket. And we’ve got to convince politicians that there are votes there and this is a good news story. The team are doing their fair share. We need to do more.

“The challenges are out there. GAA have 147,000 women registered players. That’s a hell of a lot of women. Hockey has prided itself that had a very strong female population. It’s under threat. Soccer has absolutely aimed for it; so has Gaelic and even rugby now. We need to get together with a strategic plan, implement it, talk about it and proactive it.

“The short term is to get the money. With the Sports Council, we have said we will not install a high performance director this year.

“In our four-year plan, we will certainly put that back in the programme. One of the reasons we hired Andrew Meredith is it’s a statement to the Sports Council and Sport Northern Ireland that this sport is serious where it is going.

“We got a guy with experience of winning gold medals. It’s a statement of fact that hockey is going to Rio. We need to be there.

“It is vital for the growth of our sport financially and on the pitches. They are the challenges. They are stark and have to be met head on but they can only be won if we’re shoulder to shoulder and together on the same page.”

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