Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
Minority Sports and Women's Participation in Sport: Discussion.
I am delighted to welcome to the meeting the following members of the Ireland women's national field hockey team: Ms Nicola Evans, Ms Deirdre Duke and Ms Nicola Daly. They are accompanied by the following representatives from Hockey Ireland: Mr. Jerome Pels, Ms Lisa Jacob, Ms Sharon Hutchinson and Ms Fiona Hanaphy. I take this opportunity to congratulate the team on its fantastic achievements. Ireland was a finalist and silver medalist in the 2018 Women's Hockey World Cup and recently qualified for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. At a time when the committee is dealing with challenging times in Irish sport it is particularly refreshing and heartening to have a great news story to tell here today. Hockey Ireland and, in particular, the women's hockey team should be very proud of their achievements nationally and on the world stage in recent years. The recent qualification for the Tokyo Olympics in a heart-stopping penalty shoot out against Canada will go down as one of those famous "the nation holds its breath" moments for many years to come. On behalf of the joint committee, I thank the team for bringing the country so much joy, happiness and pride once again. Congratulations to you and we wish you every success, particularly at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Hopefully, you will be wearing gold medals when we will be welcoming you back here again.
We are holding hearings on the challenges facing minority sports and the participation of women in Irish sport. We would like to hear from the athletes here today about the challenges they face each day participating in their sport. We previously met with Rowing Ireland and it is our intention to meet with the governing bodies of other minority sports in the new year, particularly in the run up to the Olympic Games.
Before we begin I must inform you about privilege. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
We read that out to everybody. It is important for some of our meetings. I invite Mr. Pels to make the opening statement.
Mr. Jerome Pels:
Thank you, Chairman, for introducing our delegation. That saves me reading the first paragraph of our presentation. We thank the joint committee for inviting us to present on the challenges facing minority sports and to talk about women in sport in Ireland. I will talk about the road we have travelled recently and highlight some of the opportunities and challenges facing us as a minority sport.
Hockey Ireland is the national governing body for the sport of hockey in Ireland, doing its work in all 32 counties of Ireland in leading and developing the sport. Hockey Ireland in its current form was established in 2000 as a result of the merger of the two pre-existing unions which governed men's and women's hockey separately. We are now joined as one organisation. Both pre-existing unions originated in the 19th century, in 1893 for the men and 1894 for the women. The men's Irish Senior Cup was first played for in the season of 1893–94, making it the oldest field hockey cup competition in the world and one of the oldest cups in sport in Ireland and perhaps in the world. The sport's 150 clubs and 280 schools are affiliated to Hockey Ireland through its branch network. The Irish Universities Hockey Association, which governs the sport in Ireland's university system, is also affiliated to Hockey Ireland.
We have a total of 26,351 registered players, 17,339 women and 9,012 men. Masters hockey is growing fast and makes it a sport for life. Hockey Ireland is funded through the following mechanisms: membership fees; grants from Sport Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland and the Olympic Federation of Ireland; and partnerships with sponsors. As is very particular to the minority sports we are not funded through TV revenues and receive only limited gate receipts. From the point of view of women in sport, we currently boast a 65% female participation share. However, there is much work to be done in other areas improving the female numbers. We are focusing at present on the leaders in our sport; with programmes developing female coaches and umpires supported by the women in sport funding initiative.
In 2016, for the first time in over 100 years for Irish Hockey, the Irish men's team competed in an Olympic Games and finished tenth out of the 12 teams competing. The year before, in 2015, the men stood on the podium with a bronze medal at the European Championships. The Rio result was not what we had hoped for and we were disappointed, but the experience of the games was important, and it inspired hockey in Ireland. In the evaluation after the games the lack of a proper high-performance structure in Hockey Ireland and uncertainty around funding were mentioned as factors affecting the result. The men had to work or study and fundraise at the same time as preparing for the games. Sport Ireland and Sport Northern Ireland funding improved significantly and has enabled Hockey Ireland to engage a full-time performance director, provide better support to the players and increase the number of times the national teams can train. The new national sports policy is extremely encouraging for the athletes and will have a significant impact on sport in Ireland. Sponsorship is growing but, compared with the funding we get from Government, still limited.
In August 2018, in London's Queen Elizabeth Park, the venue of the London games, the Irish women's hockey team won the silver medal at the International Hockey Federation, FIH, world cup. It was the most successful result ever for a senior team sport in Ireland. No doubt the team had risen to this level with far fewer resources and finances than most of the opposition, but it was proved that we can reach the highest level. Although we are a minority sport, the sport became instantly mainstream in the media and the team was met with a hero's welcome in Dublin, where 10,000 fans came to see their heroes. The viewing figures from RTÉ showed an average of 381,500 people watching that game with a share of 41% of all TV viewers at that moment, which is a pretty good figure.
The success had an immediate result - clubs had an influx of new members, or now have waiting lists for new members, or people became interested in the sport but there was no club in their area or no room in the club. To sustain the growth of the sport, Hockey Ireland has had to enhance its strategy to develop the sport at grassroots level with development officers, and more coaches and umpires. Clubs need facilities to play the sport and investment in hockey pitches spread over Ireland is crucial. The number of under-18s entering the sport has been growing steadily over the past eight years. However, year on year, the number of adults playing the sport remains level or is declining slightly. In our last session on future strategy we recognised changes in the way people spend their time and the influence lifestyle changes and new technology have. Our competition structure may need to move with the times, to shorten the engagement with the sport, or find other ways to reduce the time commitment of playing hockey regularly.
To promote the game, our grassroots introduction to hockey programmes, the hockey skills challenge and tricks for sticks attracted more than 16,000 players this year, but, as has been said, the growth at club level is hampered by capacity problems, as well as instances of insufficient numbers of skilled volunteers and club leaders. We are also proud of the development of para-hockey in Ireland, a format for hockey players with intellectual disabilities providing national and international competition in hockey. The silver medal for the women's team was not the end goal, this was on the road to something bigger, namely the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Last month, the Olympic qualification reached its climax in a two-game challenge, on goal aggregate, against Canada. The men travelled to Vancouver and missed out due to a controversial video umpire decision in the last seconds of the second game, reducing their 6-5 lead to 6-6 on aggregate with Canada winning 5-4 in the penalty shoot-out. The women played at home in Dublin. Hockey Ireland knew the interest in the games would be big and we installed a hockey pitch over the existing rugby pitch in the Energia Stadium in Donnybrook. It was only the second time ever that this technology was used, and it worked even in the torrential rain during the first game. After full time in the second match the score was 0-0 and it went to a penalty shoot-out. Ireland made a poor start to the shoot-out and found itself trailing 3-1, with Canada just one goal away from snatching the Olympic dream. Then the green army came back to win 4-3 when the shoot-out went to sudden death. The match also saw a record number in attendance with 6,137 spectators going through the gates on Sunday and on Saturday there was a similar number, the biggest crowd ever for a women's international team event in Ireland.
Nicci Daly, one of the players, who is also with us today, told RTÉ on the night: "It's everything. The whole process, it's always for the Olympics. We've come close in the past. This is the dream. This is everything to us. . . . and what a way to do it!" Meanwhile, captain Katie Mullen said: "I'm just so incredibly proud of this bunch of players. We have worked so hard, some of us have put in 10, 12 years, and it's also for all the players that have gone before us. All those who committed so much of their lives to international hockey and never made it to an Olympics. We are representing them. I am so delighted!"
The challenge now, and one of the points we want to make here today is that we must do whatever we can to support our athletes to maintain the level that this group has now achieved. We need to provide the athletes with world-class support and facilities and the ability for them to focus completely on their performance. The inspiration that the hockey players are giving as role models for young girls to take up hockey, or any other sport, is significant. It is a promotion for Ireland, it makes people feel national pride and it gets people moving and being healthier. The Government's investment in the new hockey pitch at the Sport Ireland campus will help our preparations for the games significantly. It is important to get fully conditioned to the surface the team will find in Tokyo. As one of the few top teams we can now practise on a pitch built to the exact same Poligras Tokyo GT standards as the Olympic arena. The facilities at the Sport Ireland Institute are world class and the envy of many nations. The joint approach between the Olympic Federation of Ireland and Sport Ireland in preparing for the games is significant and professional.
For minority sports, the Olympic Games are hugely important and even more so for team sports. We are guaranteed at least five games in the opening phase for the country to get behind the green army and based on the viewing figures of the Olympic qualification and 2018 FIH World Cup, the Irish public will be following the team on television in large numbers. The particular challenge of minority sports is that the interest in the sport will be at its highest at the Olympic Games, but commercial opportunities are limited as no team advertising is allowed at the games. However, the attention will be a huge driver for participation.
These are exciting times for Hockey Ireland but they are also challenging. While we have the opportunity to speak, there are a few other points that we and probably all Irish sports NGBs want to bring to your attention. First, NGBs are facing significantly increased costs in insurance, which unfortunately is money that we have to pay and cannot use for the development of the sport. Second, there may be ways of supporting the governing bodies by looking at the VAT regime for sport. Some of our expenses - and this, for instance, was highly relevant when hosting the Olympic qualifiers - are subject to VAT that we cannot recover. Finally, we get increased support from the commercial sector in the form of sponsorship but there is also significant interest in supporting the game at all levels through charitable donations and it would be great if tax benefits around such schemes could support the charitable activities of the federations.
I would like to hand over to Ms Lisa Jacob, a member of the board, who will finish our presentation with the board's perspective.
Ms Lisa Jacob:
As a member of the Hockey Ireland board, I would like to take a little time to give the committee an insight into the current position in which the sport of hockey finds itself, the key challenges it faces and the broad strategic direction the board is proposing to take over the next three to five years. I propose to speak to three key areas that together take up a significant part of the board’s time and resources. These areas broadly map to many of the key areas set out in the recent National Sports Policy 2018-2027. The three areas I will focus on are governance; structures; and strategy, with particular reference to participation and development.
It is important to record that Hockey Ireland’s approach to governance is led and informed by the principles of good governance as outlined in the governance code for the community, voluntary and charity, CVC, sector. The board has a governance subcommittee which, on a "comply or explain" basis, monitors, reviews and updates or develops policies and other by-laws on an ongoing basis to meet the ever changing needs of the sport and its membership. In fact, over the past 18 months the subcommittee has successfully completed a comprehensive update of the organisation's by-laws and policy documentation. Governance is a regular item on board meeting agendas triggered by update reports from the subcommittee. Our approach to governance also includes a new method for sourcing and recruiting members to the board. We aspire to gender equality and look to provide a positive role model to our provinces and clubs in this regard. This is evidenced by the fact that our 12-person board had until very recently a 50:50 gender split. We believe we were one of the few sporting boards to achieve this level of equality. However, due to the recent loss of one of our female board members, we currently have a 7:5 male to female split. This still falls above the minimum best practice target of 40% which is set, for example, for State boards. The presidency of Hockey Ireland, which rotates between the four provinces, also looks to ensure, where possible, that there is a gender rotation through each new presidential term.
On structures, Hockey Ireland has recently rolled out and implemented the first comprehensive database of its membership. The introduction of this type of information system was a strategic priority in our last strategy and when fully operational will provide invaluable feedback that can be used for the benefit of the entire membership. While there are a few outstanding gaps - namely umpires, schools, third level, and masters players to be added - the next big cohort of the hockey family to be accommodated is our volunteers, the lifeblood of the organisation on a day-to-day basis. Members of Hockey Ireland are currently catered for through membership of their respective clubs which, in turn, are affiliated to their respective province. The new database will help to link these members more closely to the national body and at the same time will provide the clubs and provinces with easy access to additional information such as lists of members with skill-sets such as coaching qualifications, umpire accreditation and administrative experience.
On strategy, Hockey Ireland caters for the hockey community on an all-island basis. This bring significant advantages but also adds a degree of complexity to the administrative process required to manage the sport across two different jurisdictions. As with any sport there are areas of greater club and player density. These are driven partly by an urban-rural divide but are also an artefact of the manner in which the sport was first introduced into the country over a hundred years ago. From a board perspective this presents a significant opportunity as there are communities within both the urban and rural areas that are keenly interested in developing sport and in particular the sport of hockey. The recent successes of the national senior men’s and women’s teams has served to create a positive impression of a sport that can be played throughout one’s lifetime. The men’s participation at the Rio Olympics, the women’s silver medal performance at the world cup and subsequent qualification for the Tokyo Olympic Games have provided exemplary roles models for the younger generations. Hockey as a sport caters equally to both genders and all ages, from 4 years to 80 years plus, as evidenced at a recent masters hockey tournament. As Mr. Pels said, it is also important to note that the sport of parahockey is continuing to grow and provides, through the club system, the opportunity for individuals with intellectual difficulties to participate and enjoy the camaraderie and health benefits of the sport. The current public profile of the sport was brought to a crescendo at the Olympic qualifier tournament, held in the Energia Stadium in Donnybrook at the start of November this year. While the success of the women’s team in such a nail biting finish was fantastic, the fact that over 12,200 people attended over the two nights of the weekend showed that interest in the sport was at an all-time high.
While perceived as expensive, hockey is at its most basic level a relatively inexpensive activity. In essence, there are only three requirements to get a community up and running to get started in the sport; a playing surface, hockey sticks and balls and a coach with an understanding of the basic skills of the game. The provision of the equipment has an easy solution that Hockey Ireland and the clubs and provinces can provide if appropriately supported. The two challenges are the sourcing, training and certification of an adequate number of coaches and volunteers and also finding suitable areas for playing and practising. It is interesting to note that currently a group of 60 girls practise and play regularly on a GAA pitch in Waterford. We also have a number of examples of schools and community groups, sometimes in conjunction with their local sports partnerships, LSPs, and hockey clubs, taking up indoor hockey in local halls. Ireland did in the recent past have quite a number of clubs and players playing indoor hockey. This is an area that Hockey Ireland sees as a potential opportunity for developing the game and introducing it to new community groups of all ages. Another creative initiative that started relatively recently is the concept of hockey for mums and hockey for dads. Innovative clubs decided to provide the opportunity for parents to learn and play hockey, at their level, while waiting for their children to complete their training and practice sessions. In some instances up to 60 adults availed of the chance to try the sport out and as a result started to get more embedded in the clubs and sport as a whole. Most parishes across the country have access to an indoor hall that can be easily set up to accommodate hockey, thereby subverting the immediate need for expensive outdoor facilities to be developed.
The board of Hockey Ireland recently held a full-day session to finalise the strategic pillars for the sport over the next three to five years. We were joined that day by representatives from Sport Ireland; the Olympic Federation of Ireland; members of the current senior men’s and women’s squads; a representative from our junior age group, JAG, teams; people representing the four provinces; Hockey Ireland staff; and, Hockey Ireland's European Hockey Federation representative. Participation and development was one of the pillars that everyone agreed was key to our strategic development as a sport. In fleshing out the pillar we called out the need to expand the geographic footprint of the sport, increase the number of players at all levels and all ages and broaden the number and skills of volunteers who are involved in hockey, be they coaches, umpires or administrators. The consensus was that the main means that will help us to achieve this are collaboration with other sports organisations, local sports partnerships, schools and colleges and local communities, whereby they will provide the people resources be they players or volunteers and Hockey Ireland and the LSPs will work to provide the expertise and infrastructure to allow things to happen. As an organisation and community, we believe we have much to contribute to a healthy and inspired Ireland. We thank the Chairman and committee for their time and for affording us the opportunity to meet with them today.
I thank Mr. Pels and Ms Jacob. We are delighted to have them here and we want, if the representatives feel happy enough, for everybody who wishes to contribute to do so at any stage. Normally we invite the members to ask questions in rotation. Everyone is welcome to participate and give us their views. The presentations have been most enlightening and the clarity of the analysis of Hockey Ireland's future needs is welcome. When this meeting is over, both the Minister, Deputy Ross, and Sport Ireland will get a copy of the whole discussion. Hopefully it will be acted on and the points witnesses have highlighted will be noted. I call Deputy Rock first, to be followed by Deputy O'Keeffe.
I thank our witnesses for being here today. It is refreshing to be discussing positive matters on sport and sport being on the back page rather than the front page. I thank the witnesses for their contributions as players and for their diligent administrative work as well. Ms Jacob's contribution regarding governance was refreshing. It is important there is good governance in all of our sporting organisations.
Mr. Pels spoke about needs. It is clear that hockey is developing and growing and that new resources are being provided, including a new pitch recently opened on the Sport Ireland Campus, and all are very welcome. As stated by the Chairman, the Minister will be provided with a transcript of this discussion. What is the one overarching need that Mr. Pels believes, if delivered, would make the biggest difference to hockey going forward? It is clear that this is a crucial time for the sport.
Mr. Jerome Pels:
The Minister has been helpful in supporting high performance and we have submitted plans to Sport Ireland for next year. We have been assured that in light of the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, those needs will be addressed. We expect to be advised of our budget going forward very soon. Deputy Rock mentioned that the successes have been great. The follow-up on high performance has been pretty good as well but growth in the sport presents us with some challenges. The success is inspiring many people to take up the sport but we have noted some barriers in this regard at grassroots level. It will take some time to catch-up in terms of training sufficient numbers of our volunteers to provide the coaching to enable that growth. We cannot say too much about what the Minister, Deputy Ross, is doing because we have not yet heard from Sport Ireland what our allocation will be for next year. We cannot move on that work until we know the budget.
I understand. Mr. Pels highlighted a particular issue in his opening statement that Senator Richmond, who keeps me informed on all matters hockey related, raised with me in a private conversation a number of months ago, namely, the remarkable process of installing a hockey pitch over the existing rugby pitch in the Energia Stadium in Donnybrook and that being only the second time that it had been undertaken. Will Mr. Pels elaborate on the nuts and bolts of that process, which I understand resulted in the saving of a considerable amount of money?
Mr. Jerome Pels:
It is particular to our sport that we play on a specific surface. This means we cannot play in all stadia. As I mentioned in my opening statement, we knew from the reaction within not only the hockey community but the community at large that many people were interested in watching the women's hockey team play on Irish soil. As we currently do not have a hockey stadium with sufficient capacity to enable it, in co-operation with Leinster Rugby we were able to lay a temporary surface over the existing surface at the Energia Stadium, where the match was played in front of a very large crowd. This technology was developed by a hockey pitch manufacturer and England Hockey working with people on the base layer and coming together to form the organisation Big Stadium Hockey. They are trying to repeat the use of this technology everywhere in Europe. We benefited from that technology in terms of being able to roll out a hockey carpet at the Energia Stadium.
Mr. Jerome Pels:
It can be reused. It has already found another home in the UK. The surface - the base-layer - which is a type of plastic carpet, can be used in construction and it is being reused as well. We do not own the equipment. The equipment was used by us and it will be reused, with the base-layer used in construction, and the pitch being used elsewhere as a hockey pitch.
That is fantastic. In regard to the large attendance at the Energia Stadium, I presume Hockey Ireland would like to replicate that into the future. Is it a long-term objective of the organisation to have its own stadium going forward?
Mr. Jerome Pels:
Yes. We have to be aware that these were unique circumstances. It is important to the development of the game that we have a place where we can host games. We have some excellent hockey pitches in Ireland, one of the best being at the Sport Ireland Campus, but the campus does not have any permanent stands. It is possible for people to watch a game, but only by standing around the pitch because there is no seating area. To repeat that large attendance regularly, we would require a permanent seating facility. We do not want to argue for a massive facility that would only be used every five years and so on. We need to find a compromise in terms of the right size facility.
In regard to Mr. Pels's reference to rolling out the carpet, I hope we are in a position to roll out the red carpet for Hockey Ireland subsequent to future Olympic successes. I wish everybody the very best in their endeavours.
I welcome the officials and players from Hockey Ireland. In recent years, in particular the past two years, there has been massive progress in the recognition of the sport in this country. The Minister, Deputy Ross, has no problem offering money to sports organisations following their successes abroad, as happened last year. I wish the women's hockey team all the best in its endeavours to qualify for the Olympics next year. The nearest hockey club to where I live is in Fermoy. My sister was an avid player in the club in Fermoy in north Cork. There are many other big clubs in Cork city. I hope that the additional funding being provided to communities for all-weather surfaces under the sports capital grants programme will help to progress involvement in hockey in the communities. I note the game is played on a particular surface but I am sure the players can adapt to the surfaces in the communities until such time as the required surfaces are put in place.
Reference was made to funding and the possibility of organisations with charitable status being able to obtain tax relief in respect of their donations to clubs. I thought the issue of companies making donations to sporting organisations had been resolved. Perhaps the Chairman would clarify if that is the case.
Ms Nicola Daly:
As players all we ever want to do is play at the highest level. As mentioned earlier, the Olympics is always the end goal. To qualify to compete at the Olympics, Irish teams compete against teams that are 100% funded and professional in some instances. For us, it is always about trying to bridge that gap.
Over the past year and a half, the committee has seen that we are bridging the gap as players. The funding coming in now since the world cup has been brilliant in allowing us to turn semi-professional in a sense, but challenges are still there for players every day. They have to go to work or college and are trying to train in a professional environment. The programme in place for 2020 has allowed us to come together a lot more, but we must sacrifice how we live on a day-to-day basis to do that. Our need involves making that commitment a bit easier for the players and turning it into a more professional set-up. The long term should be in sight. Whatever we will achieve in the next couple of years, it is about the grassroots and the girls coming in behind us so that we do not just have a structure for the next year or the next two years but one that will allow the younger teams to carry on and achieve what we will have achieved.
Ms Nicola Evans:
What I have to say is similar to what to Ms Daly said. It has been fantastic for the growth of the sport over the past couple of years. A traditionally minority sport, hockey has been riding on the crest of a wave. It is now about taking the opportunity with both hands and being able to develop those structures underneath it so that we can ensure the longevity of the sport and put those structures in place to allow the sport to grow. The successes, including the number of people taking up the sport around the country, have been great. As players, it is something in which we take a lot of pride.
Inspiring the next generation has been fantastic for us but in the short term, as Ms Daly said, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of our sport. The world cup was a bonus - a fantastic bonus - but it was always about the Olympics. Qualifying for the Olympics was another step in the process for us. We do not want to just turn up for the Olympics to make up the numbers. We are looking to medal at the Olympics, which is set to be the hottest Olympics on record, so planning and preparing in the next couple of months to play eight games in 14 days will be hugely demanding for us. We are hoping for anything that can alleviate the external stress for us and allow us to concentrate on the training while we are competing against full-time programmes so that we can bring home another medal.
The witnesses are very welcome. I had some conversations with some of them in advance of the meeting. It is to be hoped they will have continued success. I do not think they put down that they won team of the year at the sports awards last year as well, which was another achievement. I thank them for the opening statement. There are things about the organisation that I had not realised, so it is very useful to get that context. It would be very useful if the briefing document was included with the report that goes to Sport Ireland and the Minister because I found that very useful. There would have been some questions that are answered in this so I thank the witnesses for pre-empting the questions in terms of how one breaks down the various provinces. It is quite useful to benchmark that into the future regarding where the growth is. It is nice to have that set as a base.
The all-Ireland aspect is very interesting. It would be quite interesting to hear something about that such as how well that works. Why would Hockey Ireland not get TV revenues if they are available? Can something be done about this? That is one of the dominant forms of income in some of the bigger sports where gate receipts are becoming a more diminished aspect of funding. It would be interesting to see what is possible there and how that might work.
The success of the team has been a shop window for others to get involved. I am not surprised that there was an upsurge after that. That kind of mainstream coverage of the events is critically important. It is quite amazing how women's sports tend to be the under-represented sports, but when they are put out there in a shop window, they are equally attractive. There is a lesson there for people who are programming to make sure they are properly covered.
The other thing I wanted to ask about is VAT in sport. Will the witnesses send us a note about the shortcomings and what could improve that? Obviously, there is a differentiation between commercial sports played at professional level from which there is an income and the other side of it where people who are playing are trying to hold down jobs and fundraise at the same time.
I was really pleased to see attention paid to the governance - the boring governance aspect. It will remain boring as long as it is done right. When it is done properly, the focus ends up being on the sport itself and not on issues that are about failures in terms of administration.
I was quite interested in how the all-Ireland aspect functions and whether it functions well and opens up other opportunities. I also asked about TV revenues. That might relate to the administrative side of things in respect of potential for funding into the future.
Ms Deirdre Duke:
From a player perspective, the all-Ireland aspect is not something that really crosses our minds too much. We are delighted to be an all-Ireland team. It does not matter what part of the country someone is from - Munster, Leinster or Ulster. It is certainly not something we have spoken about as a team or something we think about too much. Regarding the opportunities it could open up, again, it is not something that has occurred to us as players. We usually concentrate on getting our training sessions in so, again, I do not really know how I can comment on that.
Ms Lisa Jacob:
I might add to that. As a recent past player, I spent two of my years living with the "nordies", as we call them. I must say that it was a fantastic experience. I spent most of my childhood watching bits about the Troubles. It is not until one lives with somebody that one gets to understand what one sees on television and somebody's real life. Regarding coming together with people from all over the country, each region has a unique nature and something it brings to an all-Ireland team. When the Deputy speaks about an all-Ireland team, for me, it is a huge strength and one I really enjoyed when I played. There is representation from everywhere on our board. We need different perspectives. They make things stronger. Mr. Pels might speak about TV rights. As far as I am aware, the International Hockey Federation has TV rights so it would have done deals with RTÉ. We do not have access to anything.
Mr. Jerome Pels:
The television rights for the games the national team plays are not held by the national governing body. If it is a European championship, the rights would be held by the European governing body and if it is on world level, the rights are held to the world governing body. In the case of the Olympic Games, the television revenues to go the International Olympic Committee. Some of the money from the International Olympic Committee comes back. We have benefited from a grant of about $100,000 over the past four years that came from Olympic Solidarity through the Olympic Federation of Ireland, so there is some benefit there. To develop the sport, we should make our national competitions stronger.
Games take place almost every weekend in the Irish hockey league sponsored by EY. Drawing from the lessons learned in other strong hockey nations, we need to grow the league and grow public interest in it. Hockey Ireland would be able to sell television rights for the games if we can get the interest of viewers. That would mean that the clubs involved would be able to get more sponsors and provide professional club hockey, which would strengthen the sport significantly.
Mr. Jerome Pels:
Unfortunately, the fees the FIH or EHF get from television rights are not very high. The first thing they need to pay out of the fees is the cost of production. We are not party to the contract for our Olympic qualifier in Donnybrook. It was run between the FIH and RTÉ and we believe the revenue covered the cost of production, including camera crews and other technical aspects. The FIH has been investing significantly in television production but it is not a profit-making situation, although it could be if the game becomes more popular. For example, cricket generates significant television rights that then come back to the national federations. The money generated at international level flows back to national level. The fees for hockey are not yet at that level.
I offer my congratulations to the team on an amazing achievement. It is the first Irish team to reach a world cup final. I watched the final, as most members probably did, or at least the highlights thereof. It was a significant boost for women and women's sport as well as for hockey. Women's participation in sport is the overarching theme of this meeting. Some of the greatest figures in sport in Ireland currently are women. I refer to Katie Taylor and Kelly Harrington who have reached the top of their sport, as well as Ellen Keane who competes in swimming in the Paralympics. Without question, women who participate in sport can achieve at the highest level internationally. The Irish women's cricket team has also performed very well.
The issue of television rights and coverage has been raised. A survey carried out in the past year or two indicates that 12% of sports coverage comprises women's sport. I was surprised the figure was that high. Coverage online is between 3% and 4%. The survey found that 58% of men and 64% thought there should be more coverage of women's sport. Obviously, far more men than women think there is enough coverage of women's sport. The standard argument is that if there is audience demand, the coverage will be offered. It is a case of putting the cart before the horse. The argument about audience and achievement is rendered meaningless by the US women's soccer team, which is more successful and draws bigger crowds than the US men's soccer team. As members will be aware, chants demanding equal pay broke out throughout the stadium at the final of the women's soccer world cup. They are pioneers on equal pay. Usually, women in sport just look for something a bit better. For example,the Irish women's soccer team was not looking for equal pay but, rather, for the players to be given tracksuits of their own. The Irish women's hockey team has definitely added to the empowerment of women in sport.
I was interested in Ms Jacob's comment on hockey not being expensive. I totally agree that one can play hockey without too much expense. However, there is a class element to hockey relating to the schools in which it is played. For example, I went to an all-girls school where one could play basketball but not hockey, whereas the boarding school next door offered hockey. What is the reason for that class element? Why does it persist? It should be examined because the more people who play a sport, the better it will be. I do not blame anyone involved in hockey for the class element but, rather, point out that we should examine it because there would be a higher participation rate if it was offered more widely. Similarly, it is not expensive to study ballet. It is less expensive to take ballet lessons than Irish dancing lessons but there is a certain elitism that persists in that regard.
I again congratulate the team on its achievement.
Ms Fiona Hanaphy:
I play for a club based in Tallaght, which is not a highly recognised hockey catchment area. I grew up in Tallaght and played hockey from the age of six. Hockey has reached areas outside the private schools. My club's pitch was funded through local partnerships and various sports capital grants. The club has been there for 40 years, although it may have shifted locations. Hockey is played outside private schools and is thriving in some areas where one may not expect it to be played. I fully acknowledge the point made by the Deputy regarding the perception, but there is significant growth of hockey at grassroots level outside its traditional areas.
On women in sport, I was at the match in Donnybrook. A young girl there wanted to get a player to sign the back of her jersey. One of the men's high-performance team offered to sign it but the girl told him she did not have space as she only wanted the names of women players on her shirt. That is how women in sport is developing. There is fantastic growth at grassroots level. If one cannot see it, one cannot be it. I thought that girl's attitude was fantastic.
Dr. Sharon Hutchinson:
Some of the problem with the perception of hockey is to do with marketing. That may be something at which Hockey Ireland must look. We should market ourselves better to counter the perception that the sport is only played in boarding schools, as the Deputy stated. As an organisation, we may need to show the other areas of the country where the sport is played. It is not just played in girls boarding schools in Dublin. It is not sufficiently widespread. Hockey is not being played in every county, but people would be surprised by some of the areas in which it is being played.
Ms Deirdre Duke:
The Deputy made a good point about hockey predominantly being played in private schools. Investing in grassroots development is of importance. I was involved in certain programmes such as Tricks 4 Sticks and speaking to teachers in schools that are not predominantly hockey schools. Many of them are physical education teachers who may come from a hurling or other background and are trying to do their best to show the students hockey. Increasing that kind of grassroots level activity, with more volunteers and coaches, would allow schools that may be outside the Dublin area to grow the sport. Several new clubs have opened in Munster in recent months, which is great to see.
As Ms Evans said, our going to Tokyo is huge but ten years into the future, I would like to see a stadium such as Donnybrook filled four, five or six times a year with women's international hockey matches. It is about investing at grassroots level to build the sport so that in ten years we will be in a much better place than we are now.
Ms Fiona Hanaphy:
Schools are keen on their blue flag for the sports programmes. We find teachers are keen to offer a varied programme of sports activities. Particularly as there is greater diversity, the standard sports are not necessarily the most attractive to all. They are looking at any kind of sport that is coming in. There are great opportunities to do six-week blocks or the one week active camp. Hockey seems to be quite popular because it can be played in halls, no matter the weather, with just a few balls. It is very attractive and teachers can learn it quickly to make it interesting. They do not need a great background in it to provide for an interesting 40-minute session in the school. It is easy to deliver but we need the people to deliver it as we cannot get around all the schools.
I am glad that Hockey Ireland has a more expansionary outlook because it would be a great sport for people to play. One would think that surely if we are good at hurling, we would be good at hockey because it is about hand-eye co-ordination. We were also good at cricket in the 1800s. Hockey can only get better the more people who play it. We could achieve even more. Well done again to the team.
I add my congratulations on the team's wonderful success both at last year's world cup and for qualifying for the Olympics. For all of us who are passionate about sport, these were two special moments with the team's qualification for the world cup when no one expected it, breaking the glass ceiling, and there was the Sunday night some months ago in the terrible weather during dramatic circumstances which were incredible. Watching the team's sheer joy in its celebrations on the pitch afterwards brought a smile to the nation. For many years, I have said that sport can do that and no other sector can - certainly politics cannot anyway. The agonising defeat of the men the previous week showed how thin a line there is between victory and defeat. It can be millimetres between agony and ecstasy. Today's presentation has mentioned governance and so on. The team is on a wonderful journey. Ironically, it had to make its own success before the goodwill came, and the acknowledgement and the recognition, but that makes it all the sweeter. The narrow dramatic victories in shoot-outs, after going 3-1 down, is heaven on earth. Well done to the team on that.
I will not cover the question of TV rights again. The reaction to the team's success and its uplift has been mentioned. The figures are before me. I am from Connacht where there are only nine clubs. Was there an uplift or have any new clubs been formed in the provinces as a result? The idea that there is a sustainable future with underage teams has been mentioned. Are there international underage competitions for development squads?
The increasing cost of insurance was mentioned. That is a very topical issue in every aspect of life. The solutions are not easy to find. What has been Hockey Ireland's experience? Has the cost increased dramatically in recent years and if so, how?
Ms Lisa Jacob:
We are looking for some hockey coaches if the Senator is willing to transfer. We have identified Connacht as an area where we are particularly short of facilities. Once we finish our strategic plan and go to implementation, Connacht will be the first place where we need to identify partnerships. There is the same interest in Connacht following the girls' success as anywhere so we need to start there and help them identify partnerships such as identifying indoor facilities that those who are there already can use until we have the outdoor facilities that we need. They are a passionate group with a new committee in place for the past couple of months. It has been very proactive in linking in with Hockey Ireland. Hopefully things will go well from there.
I have coached the junior age groups in recent years. Hockey has under 16, under 18, under 21 and, depending on the year, under 23 competitions or development team action. Across Europe, especially, every nation is at it. They are all looking at the pipeline and being very intentional about how to attract the players of the future. We must do what we can to keep up. There are many volunteer coaches who give up 30 to 35 days of their year to prepare those teams. People are travelling to train. They have been so inspired by the girls and by the men over the past four years and they are excited to be in the pipeline. It means that we know there is a good future ahead and we have some input into that.
Mr. Jerome Pels:
It is probably an issue in society generally. It mainly relates to our liability insurance. Organising the event at the Energia stadium was an experience. We underestimated how much insurance would be in our budget, but one just learns. As a condition of the use of the stadium, we needed to have certain levels of insurance, public liability, and the figures involved are significant.
Returning to Connacht, the other good news is that we have just appointed a development officer in association with the university. Hopefully that will help the clubs and the development of sport in the area.
I thank the delegation for coming in and I congratulate them and the team on their great success, which was not achieved without great sacrifice. Being an Olympian is an honour bestowed on very few, no matter what the result. I am delighted to hear of a hockey team using a GAA pitch. It is not something that is provided for in the rules of the association. Kenmare had a hockey team for a while, which used a synthetic grass pitch, which was okay because it is only a training pitch so that is within the rules of the association.
We have bendable rules in the GAA at times in Kerry. We actually had London Irish playing on the pitch at one stage in 2001. The whole committee almost got hung, drawn and quartered for that particular outing.
I wanted to ask a question on pensions. This is relevant for rowing too and I note Sanita Puspure, who is one of our Olympians as well, was before the committee previously. She pointed out that her pension contribution, like that of many others, will not be at its maximum level. Her pension is not being assisted by the State. This is a really technical point. Is there anything Hockey Ireland would like members to say on its behalf to the Minister on that point when he is before the committee next week? While no one on the deputation is near pension age, it is something that affects many minority sports people and others playing sports, including rugby and soccer. It affects them because they are unable to contribute. Nothing is being put in on their behalf by the State. That is something we should address.
Another point relates to passports. This is a bugbear of mine. We had this with Cricket Ireland as well. I was trying to get clarification on this for Hockey Ireland. There are approximately 64 all-Ireland sports teams and associations. My view is that no one should be required to have a particular passport when playing in Ireland. It is a requirement in cricket. It is not a requirement of Cricket Ireland but of the European Cricket Council. A player must have a passport of the country for whom he is playing. Obviously, given our unique circumstances, I do not believe that should be a requirement in Ireland. Again, that may be an argument this committee could make on behalf of hockey players. Identity is a major issue and we do not want it to be an issue for someone playing for the team.
The Minister is coming before the committee next week. Thankfully, it is not because of the hockey players or their association. Is there something Hockey Ireland would like us to say to the Minister? He made an announcement of €1 million. That was somewhat overstating the case. What share of that has Hockey Ireland seen? What share does the association require? Having done quite a public relations job for himself on that occasion, the Minister deserves to have to deliver on his fine words and promise. Is the cheque still in the post? What cheque should we be asking him for next week?
Mr. Jerome Pels:
The question of pension contributions may be technical but it is true of course that elite athletes basically postpone their career to a significant extent and therefore regular employment income. That would be a good point to look into.
The question of passports is interesting. I need to say this right. The passport question is important because of the rules that govern international representative teams. The rules are in place to protect us because otherwise many countries would basically shop for talent. The passport rule in the world of sport is recognised as being a good rule. Even internationally and at International Olympic Committee level there are rules and stipulations to the effect that a person cannot change passport at the drop of a hat. There is a four-year waiting time. That is to ensure people do not simply go to the country that pays the most or offers other benefits. In that sense the rule helps.
I wish to be clear: to play hockey at national level - to play for a club - there is no requirement for passports, so there is no concern about that. In fact, that is a regular occurrence in our sport. We have Irish players who play in Europe at club level. They are playing for different clubs in national competitions. In theory, a person of any nationality could play for clubs in Ireland as well. When a player represents a country, the passport becomes an issue or is subject to the rule.
It was raised in a discussion on cricket. I do not think it should be an issue. This is a unique situation so I do not believe it should be required. It would be a tragedy if someone decided not to take up the passport because of an issue. I do not think players should be required to do so in this situation.
I know the European Cricket Council has the requirement. Cricket Ireland does not want the requirement. It is something that perhaps the committee should consider for the other 64 bodies. Parent bodies have different rules and regulations. The requirement to have an Irish passport to play for the Irish hockey team should not apply because of the unique circumstances in Ireland. We should make that point on behalf of the other associations.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for allowing me to make a brief intervention this afternoon. Much has been said already and I do not intend to repeat any questions. I want to pick up on some points made in the opening statement and flesh them out.
The first point arises from an infrastructural point of view. How many employees does Hockey Ireland have? What is the aspiration when it comes to development officers? People have talked about broadening the sport in places like Connacht or in the wider society. However, we have seen from other sports the importance of development officers and co-ordinating with physical education teachers who want to bring in the sport and work with local sports partnerships. What is the strategy for rolling out, as Dublin GAA did for hurling and camogie ten or 20 years ago? How can that be replicated?
Deputy O'Keeffe touched on infrastructure and pitch access. It is great to hear about the new clubs in Tipperary working with facilities in Waterford but hockey pitches are expensive. I am not only talking about the national stadium, UCD or the temporary pitch that was so brilliantly used by the Irish hockey team in Energia Park. I have in mind the standard pitch that will run through the day as well. My constituency is something of a hotbed for hockey. Two clubs have a waiting list for every girls team from junior infants up to under-16 level. That is simply because there is insufficient pitch time. I have spoken to people playing hockey in Australia. They say they have training sessions at 11 p.m. or midnight. That may be because it is 40oC during the day but it is a matter of being inventive, as well as being cognisant of planning conditions that only allow floodlights to be on until 10 p.m.
The final point has been brushed on briefly by everyone. It relates specifically to the current players and concern about player welfare. It is not a professional sport. How does a player balance becoming an Olympian and playing at elite level with a day job or college? What is involved in the average day? What support do the players get from Hockey Ireland? What if the employer is not sympathetic? What about family members? The Hockey Ireland representatives referred to the goal for the hockey league and television rights or aspirations to be online. Many players have been playing abroad recently, including those on the Irish team. They have played on the Continent or under collegiate system in the USA. I assume the aspiration, like other sports, is to have every Irish international playing in Ireland around the clock. How can that be achieved? What is afoot to try to achieve that?
Mr. Jerome Pels:
We are probably doing pretty well. It has been mentioned that mainstream sports can make revenue from television and gate money. GAA, football and rugby invest a great deal of money back into their sports. The numbers of development officers in those sports are far beyond what we do. In the context of smaller sports we are doing a relatively good job. As an all-Ireland sport, we benefit from our Ulster branch, which is well supported as well. That gives us an additional resource.
Senator Richmond commented on the high cost of hockey pitches.
We know that is just a fact. There is an opportunity to play indoor hockey, which would mean we could use existing facilities. We are definitely looking at that with our development strategy. That could be an introduction into the sport because it is an aspect of our sport.
I will defer to the players on the question of the support level for the athletes.
Ms Deirdre Duke:
Obviously, the preference is that we all would play at home. I played abroad for one year and Ms Nicola Daly played abroad for two years. In college, balancing life and hockey is okay but once players come into the real world it is certainly more difficult and they become more aware of how their peers are progressing at a different level in their career. Following the success in the World Cup and with help from Park Developments, SoftCo and Sport Ireland, we have been able to become a bit more semi-professional since July. That has been a major driver in getting players to return home. Five of us were playing abroad last year and we are all back in Ireland now playing on a semi-professional basis.
Regarding balancing with work, I have recently started working in a job two days a week. The coverage we have got over the past two years has made companies and employers buy into our story and they allow us a bit more flexibility. Although we are incredibly grateful for all the support, we still need to work for a couple of days a week in order to get by. There are challenges to it but we do not really think about it as a sacrifice as such; it is our choice. We want to play for our country and we also want to progress in our career.
It is a little daunting. While Ms Lisa Jacob is a little older than I am, we are all coming to the end of our careers in the next four-year cycle. It can be a bit daunting to progress on if one does not have anything set up. The main point is that we are all grateful that we have all been able to move home and really concentrate on playing here. It is better for us all to be training here than abroad.
Ms Nicola Daly:
It goes back to the sustainability issue. Players tend to go outside the country to play at a higher standard. If we can keep the players in Ireland, it helps to grow the sport at grassroots and improve our club structure. If we can make that sustainable, we can keep the players here. When trying to balance college or a job with hockey playing, it is not really sustainable. We have been doing it for the past ten years and it is not ideal.
We were asked about pensions. I had not even thought about that. I just thought after I finished playing hockey I would have to work for an extra ten years to make up for it. However, it is something to think about. Players are inclined to focus just on the sport. Someone either becomes a sportsperson and that is one's job and one receives the benefit of it being one's job or one focuses on one's career. At the moment we are in limbo between the two. We are trying to be full-time athletes while also trying to build our careers. It is probably not sustainable for the next generation coming through if we are to continue to be successful.
Ms Fiona Hanaphy:
A point was made earlier about leveraging off existing facilities. A sub-committee of the board works on the development of grassroots participation. When we do things like going to schools or do Tricks 4 Sticks programmes, I come across an inability to break through some of these invisible walls that prevent us from availing of facilities. I will give an example. Considerable money was put into laying 4G and 5G pitches. If a 3G pitch is put down, it is suddenly available to hockey. An awful lot of money is put into these pitches that might cost €180,000 or whatever when a little extra money might allow more sports to use these pitches.
I make this request of the committee. In all conversations and meetings that take place, some thought should be given to leveraging off AstroTurf and other all-weather facilities to make some of them hockey pitches as well as pitches for other sports. I do not know if that is ever addressed anywhere. We can only do so much. There are hockey pitches, 4G pitches and 5G pitches. It is about opening up and accessing existing facilities.
I have seen this in Kerry affecting women's Gaelic football. One might say that soccer, hockey, rugby, Gaelic football and hurling are competing sports. However, within each of those sports, women are being treated unequally for facilities, training time, pitch access etc. to the point where women often have to use inferior pitches. Is that something the women's hockey players are coming across? It is not just because an existing sporting organisation has facilities which seem to be empty. Some organisations are not making them available to women, which shows the inequality women are facing in sports. There is no requirement on organisations that are given money. We got around the London Irish one by saying that because we got lottery funding we would have to allow them on the pitch as long as they did not bring a ball and suddenly a ball appeared. However, there is discrimination against women within their own sports. Does it happen in hockey where the men's association might have control over a pitch limiting women's access?
Ms Fiona Hanaphy:
No. We are actually quite strict even within our club hockey. Time is normally allocated on Sundays for juniors. There would want to be a really good reason to take off a junior match to play a senior match. We are very good that way, but we really struggle with assets and opening up in general term, as happens in other countries. If a municipal facility is provided, it should be made available to all sports.
Are there more shared municipal facilities in Ulster? I remember playing a cricket match in Ballyclare, where the facility catered for cricket, tennis, hockey, rugby and football. It was unique because it was the only sports ground in the town. Should we be looking at that across all sports and not just specific to hockey.
My understanding is that in recent years sports capital grants to clubs and communities have been based on a points system whereby more points were awarded based on more clubs and organisations using the facility. That was a welcome move at the time. Has that been an incentive if a club is looking for a grant and can point to hockey and other sports using it? I am conscious about what Senator Mark Daly said about the GAA. Many barriers have been broken down in recent years, although not all of them.
Ms Fiona Hanaphy:
From a hockey perspective, people are able to play every sport on a hockey pitch, but hockey can only be played on a pitch with the correct pile. Where grants have been made for hockey pitches, they can be used for Gaelic games and soccer; everybody is using them. However, hockey cannot be played on a pitch with the wrong pile. That is the issue.
I have a very similar point to make on the sports capital grants. Clubs tend to make the grant applications and they provide matching funding. They are looking at it from their own sports' perspective. I am not sure if they would all give consideration to the wider aspect. For example, in many cases all-weather pitches provide the income that keep clubs going. If they understood the change in the specification they may be very keen to embrace it. How can the hockey association get that information to clubs making the application?
Does it come through guidance on the sports capital grants? Does it arise from the various federations talking to each other?
Ms Fiona Hanaphy:
I am heavily involved with the sports capital grants through my own club. I know from that club that our pitch is used by non-hockey sports for 60% to 65% of the time. The demand is just from the area we are in. It is very hard to get pitch time. Many clubs are renting their pitches to anybody, which is fantastic.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and Mr. John Treacy will be before us in a week to discuss the issue of pensions. Perhaps we could ask them to outline their proposals for the Government on Sport Ireland and pensions for high-performance athletes and Olympians. I have heard about pensions from the rowers and everybody else. Collectively, there are a lot of people involved. We should have an estimate of the cost to the Exchequer and make a proposal for the Government. All parties are producing their election manifestos and this is an Olympic year. I am not telling anyone how to do their job but maybe the parties should be asked to include what I propose in their election manifestos.
Much is made about participation. Sport has become more demanding nowadays, regardless of the code. There was a time when a player could play three or four sports. How many hockey players play other sports competitively?
Dr. Sharon Hutchinson:
Many hockey players play hurling or camogie. I am more familiar with the camogie side. Seasons complement each other. Someone who plays camogie or hurling in the summer comes into the hockey season fit and ready to go. The hockey season is in the winter. Those two sports complement each other quite well.
We are nearly finished. When we are finished, we will take a quick photograph of the witnesses and members outside, if the witnesses are happy to do that.
I have a final question. With regard to the Abbotstown facilities, does hockey have everything it needs there? Are there additional requirements? I have been asked to put that question.
Mr. Jerome Pels:
Sport Ireland is well aware of this. We have had many discussions on the development of the pitch. Sport Ireland is aware that sometimes when we want to bring in the public, we install temporary facilities. The organisation is well aware of the cost of that. In the conversations, we say that if we do this regularly, it is better to invest in something permanent. Temporary measures involve one-off costs and they basically mean the money is gone. Stands would be helpful.
The views we have heard will be conveyed to Sport Ireland. The witnesses should make sure they send to us any additional points they wish to make. We would be happy to support them in what they want. I am not saying they will get it but we will certainly push the door open for them if we can.
Ms Deirdre Duke:
There is a point I wish to make that did not occur to me earlier because we are all Dublin based. Since there is an increased amount of training, under what is pretty much a semi-professional programme, the girls coming from outside Dublin have no real base or accommodation. They have been making use of hotels and so on, which is a major expense. There is a certain amount of accommodation in Sport Ireland that could be of use. In the build-up from May onwards, we will be training for seven days a week.
I apologise as I had to leave to go to a meeting. The witnesses are very welcome. We are very proud. I do not want to repeat what everybody else has said. I understand the witnesses spoke of an all-island hockey team. A little over two years ago, we were very anxious to have an all-island hockey team — it was a men's team — competing in the Commonwealth Games. We went a long way towards it. We would have to agree to embrace Ireland–Britain relationships. It would be opportune to have an all-island hockey team. I wish those present every success in the Olympic Games. An all-island team is an option. There is no better sport than hockey with which to achieve this. We should strive to have a hockey team in the Commonwealth Games in 2022. Had I mentioned this 15 years ago, people would have got angry. In the past two years, we have come of age. I would like to hear the opinions of the sportswomen present and the administrators of the sport. I do not want to get into politics as the Commonwealth Games should be above politics. I am sorry for the curveball.
In fairness to the Senator, it is quite right to ask the question. In fairness to our guests, they will be happy to answer. If they do not do so now, they may think about it. I do not want to involve them in any controversy.
We will go outside and have the photograph taken.
I am struck not only by the commitment of our guests in their playing life but also by their consideration of the players who will come after them in the sport, in addition to their security. The individuals present do not have the same security that participants in other sports might have, yet their commitment is total. I am very much aware of that.
The point made by Senator Mark Daly on future income is important because players are committing their working lives to their sport. It is important to remember this. I thank the witnesses for attending. The committee members have listened carefully. Obviously, we will report to the Minister. If the witnesses have anything to add, we will be happy to hear it. We will suspend now and resume in private session immediately after the photograph.