Galway truly needs a person, or organisation, to champion sports in the city and county. For too long Galway City Council, Galway County Council, politicians and other civic leaders have paid limited attention to the provision of modern sporting facilities and offered little support to sporting clubs and organisations throughout the county. It is my belief that many decision-makers in the county have no real understanding of the benefits, both from a health and social perspective, of participation in sports and thus treat the issue in an off-hand inconsequential manner. Instead, they prioritise issues that will be economically beneficial or will afford them a ‘peaceful’ working day and evening. The worthy effort, time, and resources spent attracting visitors to the city must be commended, the Volvo Stopover being a good case-in-point with Deloitte estimating that the stopover was worth 55 million Euros to the local economy . Nonetheless, the focus of decision-makers is too frequently skewed towards attracting visitors to the city at the expense of the local populace, and in particular local sporting organisations and activities.
In 2005 the Economic And Social Research Institute, in conjunction with The Irish Sports Council, released a report on the social significance of sport in Ireland. The key recommendation of that report is that sports policy in Ireland should recognise and support the social aspects of sport, taking account of social bonding, community involvement, and general contribution to the effective functioning of society that it provides . This social dimension of sport has attracted growing attention over the past number of decades in the context of an interest in ‘social capital’. The concept of social capital refers to the social networks, norms, values, and understandings that facilitate cooperation within or among groups . This might be understood as simply a new term for ‘community’.
As a way of emphasising my point on the lack of reasonable facilities, I suggest that the majority of playing pitches vested with Galway City Council, particularly soccer, are in poor condition. When I visited West Park recently I was transported back in time some 30 years. This heavily utilised pitch remains the same as it was when I played schoolboy football, with the massive dip in the centre and a dangerous and uneven surface throughout. I also, of late, sat and watched games at South Park on a surface that would have Roy Keane blowing a gasket (remember Saipan). Crestwood, Millers Lane, Renmore, Cappagh Park, Westside, Oranmore, Jes Pitch (to name just a few that come to mind), all these pitches would fail even the most basic and rudimentary criteria set down for participation in the Mayo Soccer league. A report for Galway City Council some two years ago also focused on the fact that the majority of playing surfaces were well below the required standard for participatory modern sports activities . It’s grossly unfair on players, managers, and teams who train twice weekly, if not more, to then risk injury every Saturday/Sunday on sub-standard pitches that are poorly maintained through no fault of their own (it’s important to note that Galway City Council forbids any work to take place on these leased pitches without their explicit consent).
It’s time for some action and it’s time sport was taken seriously by the powers-that-be. The progressive clubs like Salthill Devon and Mervue Utd are to be applauded for the enormous efforts they have put into improving their facilities, but the city and county have many other smaller, and just as vital, clubs that allow the various leagues and cup competitions to take place each year. They need help not bureaucratic stonewalling, they need support and assistance and, more importantly, they need encouragement. Sport is providing an extremely important social service in Galway and it needs tangible and practical support from our local leaders.