By Chris O’Connell

The summer of 2012 has been a great one for sport. It has taken in the highs and (in Ireland’s case) lows of the Euros; a bumper Irish Open at Portrush; the ongoing excitement of the All-Ireland Championships; and – of course – the biggest show of them all: the Olympics and Paralympics in London. All over Ireland there are people involved in organising, competing, attending or simply watching these events.

But who exactly are these people? We all know that sport has an unparalleled capacity to bring people together, but a recent report produced by The Integration Centre and the ESRI demonstrates  that – in present-day Ireland – sport is failing to live up to its potential.

The results of the 2011 Annual Monitoring Report on Integration released in June of this year injected a note of sobering reality to all the summer-sport hoopla. In terms of active participation, only 28% of non-EU nationals surveyed reported playing sport in the previous 7 days, compared to 44% of Irish nationals; and the figures for social participation (including club membership and attendance at events) present an even starker contrast: 19% of non-EU nationals versus 49% of Irish.

What’s more, the report itself acknowledges that its own figures underestimate the problem, given that they were gathered via a telephone survey (many non-Irish nationals do not own landline phones) and limited to those aged 40 and under. The true picture of sporting participation, in other words, is almost certainly a lot bleaker.

So what does this say about international students in Ireland and their integration into Irish (sporting) life? Tosin Omiyale, a Dublin Institute of Technology graduate and athlete from Nigeria, is convinced that a lot more can and should be done to harness the potential of sport to break down cultural barriers in this country.

“Sport is a great way of dealing with the stress of student life,” she says, “But all too often international students are left alone to navigate their way into it.” Educational institutions, she feels, are “not proactive enough in encouraging participation. There are sports clubs in most colleges, but they have a very heavy representation of Irish students and don’t target internationals for recruitment.”

Institutional failings are largely to blame for the lack of diversity in social participation in sport also, according to Ken McCue, International Officer of Sport Against Racism Ireland (SARI), and visiting lecturer on the FIFA Master Program at De Montfort University in England.

McCue cites the possibility of encountering racial abuse at sporting events – such as that highlighted by the recent case of Wexford Gaelic Football star Lee Chin – as a factor in discouraging attendance among non-EU nationals; and he points to the failure by Irish clubs and sporting associations to institute effective integration strategies – with the exception of the GAA, which has adopted the UEFA “Respect” initiative. This lack of planning threatens a “sporting apartheid,” McCue claims.

One way to help break down these barriers, McCue feels, is to engage the diaspora organisations here in sporting events. “For the Special Olympics (in 2003) support networks were put in place around the country for different national squads based on (those organisations).” On that basis – with very few athletes using Ireland as a pre-Games training base – the 2012 Olympics represent for him a “missed opportunity” to increase participation, and also raise Ireland’s profile as a multi-cultural sporting venue.

Back to Omiyale: “Sport is a vehicle for integration,” she says, “But to achieve that it has to be well-planned. You can’t expect it to just happen.”

These words are echoed by Killian Forde, CEO of The Integration Centre: “Integration is a process. Contrary to popular belief it does not happen organically with the passing of time. Structures need to be put in place by government which ensure the social cohesion and future success of Irish society.”

But important progress has nonetheless been made. Pointing to the presence of athletes with backgrounds as diverse as Eastern Europe, Africa and the Americas (North and South) in London to represent Ireland, Helena Clarke, Director of Public Affairs for The Integration Centre, is keen to encourage a more inclusive approach: “The Olympics is an opportunity for people to celebrate diversity in sport, and for the Irish to get behind those have chosen to represent this country.”

Want to Get Involved in Sport in Ireland? Some Suggestions:

Your Home Institution: Most colleges and universities have clubs and societies that recruit mainly during the first weeks of the academic year. More information is available on your institution’s website or office of student affairs.

SARI: The NGO has a register of all sporting clubs and associations nationwide, and can direct you to the nearest one to your location, whatever the sport. To contact SARI go to www.sari.ie or call 01-8735077.

GAA: Go to the website www.gaa.ie for general information, or you can contact the National Inclusion Officer on 01-8363222 or inclusion@gaa.ie.

Football Association of Ireland (FAI): For information on grassroots football, go to: http://www.fai.ie/domestic-a-grassroots.html.

 

Yeah! English its belong to Yeah magazines  an online and physically magazine for the international  student in Ireland.