That a sum not exceeding £10 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31 March, 1948, for a Grant towards the cost of providing athletic grounds in the vicinity of Dublin.
This Estimate is only for a token Vote. It is directed towards securing from the Dáil an approval in principle for a scheme for the encouragement of athletics in this country by way of the provision of facilities for their development. It is introduced now and in this fashion because of representations made by the various bodies controlling athletics in the country and because of certain proposals formulated by the Dublin Corporation in relation to the provision of facilities for athletics and athletic development. The ambit of the Vote is thus a rather narrow one and may, if the opinion of the Dáil favours such commitments, be extended to cover a much wider field. The Government's primary interest in the development of athletics is its concern for the national health and physique. In these days when so many of our young people find their livelihood in sedentary occupations, when manual work has been replaced in great measure by the machine, there is urgent need for the provision of an opportunity for indulgence in games and athletics and for encouragement thereof.
Team games in this country are fairly well organised and because they have a greater public appeal than track or field sports are supported by a reasonable revenue. This revenue enables the associations concerned to do a good deal in regard to the provision of playing fields but the lack of athletic grounds suitable for track and field athletics is the main barrier to the development of this type of athletics throughout the country. Team games are a first-class form of athletics. All athletes are for various reasons not fitted to participate in team games and because of this fact a special effort should be made to provide facilities for field and track athletics throughout the country. So as to prevent physical injury it is necessary that indulgence in athletics should be directed and in some measure controlled. Any physical injury resulting from athletic participation has been brought about by the unwise efforts of untrained men. Properly directed athletic pursuits will have an entirely beneficial physical effect and by weaning young men from the growing tendency to make the dance hall and cinema the only recreational outlet will also have a desirable effect on the character and outlook of the coming generation.
The Government is naturally concerned with a widespread participation in athletics rather than with the production of a few champions of international note, but these prodigies are a natural growth in the life of a nation in which athletics is part of the average man's recreation. Their emergence and achievements give a country-wide fillip to athletics and tend to raise the standard and widen the area of participation. The ideal to be aimed at is the provision wherever possible throughout the country of playing fields and other sporting centres; the promotion of athletic and recreational facilities and the establishment ultimately of a national stadium in which could be held periodic national or international games.
For this purpose it would be desirable to establish a national athletic council composed of persons prominent in the athletic world, acting voluntarily or for small fees, with a paid executive staff and this council should have placed at its disposal certain financial resources an annual subvention to meet its administrative expenses; further financial advances from the Exchequer to a maximum limit from which to make advances to athletic bodies for the provision of fields, equipment, etc., and a capital sum wherewith to build a national athletic stadium, which it would control, and the revenue from which would go to meet its administrative costs. The functions of the council shall be to:—
(i) Inquire into the existing facilities for athletic and recreational activities in Eire.
(ii) Direct attention to the value of such activities.
(iii) Encourage the promotion of local schemes for the promotion of further and better facilities for athletic and recreational activities.
(iv) Appoint qualified persons as organisers or instructors of athletic and recreational activities.
(v) Determine after consultation with the Minister the number, remuneration, duties and conditions of appointment of executive staff, organisers and instructors.
(vi) Make grants towards the expenses of local voluntary organisations for providing facilities for athletic and recreational activities including the provision of playing fields and other sporting centres.
(vii) Determine after consultation with the Minister in each case of an application for a grant the amount of such grant and the ratio which such grant shall bear to the total cost of the scheme proposed to be carried out with the help of such grant.
(viii) Prepare a scheme for the provision in Dublin of a national stadium.
The organisation shall make rules, approved by the Minister, governing the management of, letting for athletic and recreational purposes of, and charging for admission to, the playing field and/or sporting centre. The organisation shall furnish to the Minister annually or before an appointed date particulars of its activities during the previous year.
Because the only proposals so far before the Government are related to Dublin, the possible expenditure that may have to be undertaken this year relates to these proposals. But if the idea of athletic development is to be of any value it must relate to the whole country. Again, the total expenditure envisaged or likely to be needed should not, for obvious reasons, come from central funds. Any district from which demands come for facilities should be prepared to undertake a proportion of the cost. Otherwise impossible demands would be made on the Exchequer.
I am very anxious to get the views of Deputies on this proposal. I am interested in it, but these are in a great measure my own views and I would like them to be sandpapered against the views of others. I do think that this proposal is of value. I think that any proposal that induces enthusiasm in young people is of value to the country. I think such a proposal is bound to have very salutary effects on the physique of our young people, and I am not unmindful of the prestige which might accrue to the nation from the development of athletes of international note in this country. Other countries have been put on the map of the world by their athletes. At one particular time in the history of athletics we held a very high place among other nations. Due to the fact that facilities have been put at the disposal of athletic bodies in other countries, we no longer hold that place. Yet I do believe that we have material at all times capable of meeting the first flight of competition anywhere if properly trained.
Finally, I might say that I am not concerned with trying to develop the idea of producing a handful of athletes who would compete internationally. I am concerned with the participation generally of the young people of this country in every form of athletics. As I said, team games are well organised and have good support and are thereby enabled to carry on under their own steam. There is not the same popular support for field and track events. I wish again to emphasise that many prospective athletes in the country, because of certain defects of temperament and physique, are not capable of successfully playing team games. Men of slightly defective eyesight are not successful at team games and it would be well that we should open a door whereby they would enter into the participation of another form of athletics; that we should do as much as possible, with voluntary help also, to try to develop this side of athletics in the country for the benefit of our people and for the benefit of the nation.