Business

In business as in sport, positive results don't come out of thin air

Ireland's players celebrates after winning a place in the women's hockey world cup final in London

A COUPLE of months ago I went to an event hosted by Phoenix Gas in the Sports Institute of NI at the Ulster University. The purpose was to explore how the business community could potentially work with local sports stars as they plan life after sport. It was an interesting event with a positive purpose.

The speakers included four-time gold Paralympian sprinter Jason Smyth and captain of the Irish ladies hockey team, Katie Mullan. I got chatting to Katie before the formalities began and as someone not versed in hockey but with a keen interest in sport it was fascinating to hear her talking about the upcoming World Cup.

Katie's eyes shone as she talked about the tournament and how much work the team had put in. Here was a sportswoman full of confidence and determination. I asked her how far could they go, given the hard group they were in. She said ‘I think we will do well.' Well, didn't they just?

The Irish hockey team has been the sports story of the summer. That brief encounter with Katie piqued my interest in the competition and I started reading previews as the event drew near. There was almost universal acknowledgement that if Ireland won a group game, that would be a success; getting out of the group seemed to an implausible dream. Watching the games as the team went all the way to the final it was very clear how organised, disciplined and structured the team was. They have been coached, and bought into the coaching as a unit. It was uplifting to watch their progress.

I listened to the semi final game on radio while driving to Dublin on Saturday to watch Liverpool play Napoli. I was ostensibly bringing my two Reds supporting sons to see their heroes but in truth I was excited myself to see Sala, Mane et all. As it happened, Liverpool were far too good for their Italian opponents and as the game petered out so did the atmosphere. At the start though it was electric, like a home game with 50,000 Liverpool fans belting out ‘You'll never walk alone.'

Sport is now all pervasive. Just this past weekend we had the hockey, the return of the Irish League soccer, GAA hurling semi finals and football Super 8s, the European Sport Championships in Berlin and Glasgow, and the Community Shield final.

Locally there were innumerable club events in GAA staged to commemorate Gaelic Sunday, when 100 years ago the British Authorities ruled that no Gaelic games could take place without prior permission. They got their answer then and they are getting it still, a century later.

There was the Feile 10k race through Belfast, a Carlingford 5k race on Friday night, over 1,500 people taking part in park run at 8 venues across Belfast alone. I know for sure I have left something out, such is the prevalence and importance of sport in people's lives, across all codes and all age groups.

When I was kid I regarded sport as something which just came naturally whether playing endless games of football on the street or in a more structured way through St Agnes, my GAA club. As an adult and someone who helps coach young kids at Naomh Brid is it is clear that sport is more than that. Sport forms people, teams, friends and communities.

The adventures of our ladies hockey team for example put smiles on faces of people who have never watched hockey before now. Who couldn't look on at the attitude of that squad and feel pride in the team's success? Even casual observers of the GAA have been held spellbound by this year's hurling championship with classic encounters one after the other. Sport does that, it reflects and projects who we are.

That makes the impact of recent road safety legislation all the more disappointing whereby responsibility for granting permits for events on roads has transferred from the PSNI to local councils, who in turn have discretion over whether to charge event organisers or not.

So while in the past the PSNI would work with volunteer organisers to manage an event, councils have begun, with no hint of consistency, to charge for this service, including road closures and signage.

The impact is already being felt with a number of high profile events including the Groomsport half marathon, have been cancelled. The legislation which is driving the change was passed by the Assembly but local race organisers feel they were blindsided and not fully involved in the process.

It would take a Minister and Assembly to be in place to amend or reverse these changes and of course we know that the only record being chased by politicians is that for being out of government with no sign of that changing.

So while MLAs trade insults, events which benefit local people, local communities and local businesses are being literally priced off the road. No word on any band parades being cancelled so far, only healthy pursuits which boost fitness and build community spirit have been affected.

This is one example, and perhaps a small one, of the impact of having no government in place. But if we want to build on recent sporting success and create new memories for our young people, we need to get them outdoors and active by removing all impediments.

Results don't come out of thin air, they are built on hours, days and years of hard work. Let's support our sports stars at all levels.

:: Brendan Mulgrew (brendan.mulgrew@mwadvocate.com) is managing partner at MW Advocate (www.mwadvocate.com). Follow him on Twitter @brendanbelfast

:: Next week: Claire Aiken

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