Speech: Addressing Government Ministers on the Importance of Sport

Speech on Sport Ireland Report

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests and members of the Irish Government, my name is Paul Ryan and I am here today to talk to you about the recent Sport Ireland Report that has sent shockwaves through the country.

As a Leaving Cert student, I was astounded to learn that only one in eight Irish school children are getting the required exercise on a weekly basis. I was also shocked to learn that only 40% of teenage girls are participating in sport in this country. Today, as I address you, I hope to put forward concrete proposals on how we, as a country, should address these issues. 

The first person I would like to address here today is the Minister for Education. Minister, I understand that it is not your job or the job of teachers to make sure that kids are getting the proper exercise, but I feel that you are in a position to make a lasting difference in this battle against obesity, against Diabetes and ultimately against depression.

Parents are busier now more than they’ve ever been. With longer commutes to work, longer working hours and less time in the evening, parents find it hard to ensure kids are getting active. It’s much easier to allow them to stream the latest videos from YouTube, play Fortnite on their Xbox or watch TV. All of this is leading to the problems identified in the report. How do we tackle it? We put PE teachers in all primary schools.

Every secondary school in Ireland has Physical Education on its timetable, so why don’t primary schools do the same? Imagine if every child in Ireland got 40 minutes of exercise every day at school. This would have a massive impact on the lives of kids and parents and would alleviate a lot of the problems we have already touched on.

Another positive aspect of this proposal is that it would lead to more jobs in sport and exercise and we know that there are a lot of graduates in this area who are struggling to get meaningful employment. Their skills could be utilised in our primary schools, where it is clear that not enough is being done to get our young people active. 

At secondary level, I would also like to propose that PE be taught on a gender specific basis. You might be wondering why I am proposing this, but in a recent study it was found that 60% of teenage girls had difficulty taking part in PE because they felt embarrassed in front of the boys. This is leading to a drop in the number of girls participating in exercise and ultimately leads to girls seeing exercise in a negative way. If we want more girls taking part in PE, make them feel comfortable in class and encourage them to do it.

We say we are concerned about the problem but are we concerned enough to take the appropriate action? Minister, the ball is in your court.

Next I would like to talk to the Minister for Sport. Minister, you are charged with the delivery and funding of sport in this country. We all know the main sports like soccer, GAA and rugby are well funded and participation rates are high, but here’s the problem, not everyone likes contact sports. Do you think that it is a coincidence that only 40% of girls are involved in sport? A lot of girls don’t want to get involved in contact sport or competitive sport for that matter. Some people want to take part in different sports and more needs to be done to promote other sports that people who are less competitive might take part in. For example the GAA set up Gaelic for Mothers and Others, a fun initiative for females who don’t play competitive GAA to come and train and play in a fun and non-competitive environment. Programmes like these need more funding and we need the government to create more of these type of programmes.

It’s not about finding players who are going to lead Ireland to win the world cup, it’s about getting everyone involved in some type of sport that offers a release for people, young and old. Recently, the government has been funding ‘men on the move’ and ‘women on the move’ classes, it’s time to initiate ‘kids on the move.’ Why wait until these people are over forty? By then, the damage will have been done and it’s too late. The time to act is now.

To the minister for health, I want you to work with the aforementioned ministers to deliver these proposals that are so badly needed. You may be wondering what this has to do with you, but I believe that every piece of action or inaction taken now will impact on the delivery of health services for the future of this country. If we continue on the same track, it is going to cost us billions in dealing with obesity related problems like diabetes even more worryingly, depression.

Our mental health services are at breaking point at the minute and we are failing to address one of the key areas in dealing with the problem; exercise. Doctors are prescribing exercise for people suffering from depression before they use drugs so minister, is prevention not better than cure? If we encourage young people to lead healthy lives, we will have less obesity, less diabetes, less cancer, less depression and less expense on our health system. Do we really want our hospitals bursting at the seams in twenty years time with people whose waists are literally bursting at the seams? Some of you may laugh, but it’s no laughing matter. When schools have to apply for funding for bigger chairs, we know we have a problem, when parents can’t get uniforms that fit, we know we have a problem, when cholesterol levels are an issue with children, we know we have a problem/ Knowing we have a problem and doing something about it are two different things, so my question is, are we willing to tackle this problem?

I would like to thank you all for taking the time to listen to my speech and I hope that you have taken my concerns on board. Thank you.

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