Meath Sport – Playing the long game

Project Long Game is a unique project – I’m not aware of any other local authority doing something like this.” (Russell Seymour, CEO BASIS)

Meath sport’s latest initiative – a sustainability and sport project aimed at the county’s clubs and sportspeople – was the topic of conversation at the kick-off event in Navan last Saturday.

In an innovative first for Ireland, lead partners Meath County Council and Meath Local Sports Partnership have committed to ‘working together for sustainability through sport’.

The project’s first phase is aimed at helping grassroots clubs across the county understand how they can help build a healthier and more sustainable future for themselves and for future generations.

Local and international speakers

Hosted by RTE’s Eilis Sheehy, an array of local and international speakers took stage at the Solstice Centre to share their insights and expertise.

After video messages of support from Jamie McGrath, Nina Carberry, Joe Sheridan, Shauna Ennis and Colm O’Rourke, attendees were welcomed formally by Cathaoirleach Cllr. Nick Killian, Thomas Byrne (Minister for Sport), Dr Una May (CEO, Sport Ireland) and Sharon Tolan (Chair, Meath Local Sports Partnership).

All were unanimous around how sport can play a key role in tackling the critical social and environmental issues that we face.

With sport acknowledged as having a ‘unique status’ by the UN, it can help deliver effective action in key areas, including health and wellbeing, climate action, gender equality, biodiversity, accessibility, waste prevention etc.

How can sport play its part?

Understanding that sustainability extends to a balance of positive social, economic and environmental activity, sports clubs can not only operate more sustainably but also help influence the behaviour of participants, supporters and communities.

Sport is central to our lives and it’s a trusted ambassador”, explained keynote speaker Russell Seymour. “Through sport, we can also help people to talk about sustainability.”

Grassroots Pioneers

For any clubs in the audience wondering how and what to approach, inspiration flowed from the panel of representatives from clubs from the ‘big three’ sports of GAA, rugby and football.

Insights from Paul Gray, Clan Na Gael (Louth), Peter Dickson, Dromore RFC (Down) and Michael Flynn, Railway Union Football Club (Dublin), centred around the opportunities for club and wider community.

Themes included the need for a club ‘champion’, the value of small, bite-size steps to start and the importance of funding support for clubs committing to the journey.

GAA Healthy Clubs & Green Clubs

Keynote speaker, Padraig Fallon (chair, GAA’s Green Clubs Committee), gave an outline of the GAA’s approach to social and environmental sustainability.

Away from the field of play itself, the organisation has accredited around 500 ‘Healthy Clubs’ – which work to improve the wellbeing of their members, supporters and wider communities.  

Through structured programmes – including guidance around healthy eating, alcoholism, gambling, CPR etc – many lives have been impacted positively behind the scenes (24 Healthy Clubs already exist in Meath).

Complementing off-field social progress, the GAA’s Green Clubs programme is now helping clubs to navigate their environmental responsibilities across five key pillars of Energy, Water, Waste, Biodiversity and Travel.

With ‘Phase 2’ about to launch, there was praise again for the 20 Meath clubs applying to take part. For anyone seeking further information, the recently launched Green Clubs Toolkit has a range of videos explaining each element of the programme.

How can Meath sport be a leader for sustainability?

The final panel allowed three further prominent voices involved with sport and sustainability to give their thoughts on the opportunity facing Meath sport.

Mide Ní Shúlleabháin (GAA lead sustainability consultant) and Meath’s triple Olympic athlete, Natalya Coyle, pointed respectively to the importance of collaboration and the role of athletes.

Although competitive off the field, ideas should be shared between clubs and members and implemented on a wider basis. Similarly, athletes and players have a platform to voice concerns and potential solutions – everyone has a role to play in this.

Another speaker added to the message of collaboration. Seán McCabe, football’s first Climate Justice Officer with Dublin’s Bohemian FC, reminded the audience that society will only deliver sustainable safety through community cooperation. “Our very future depends on this.”

Project Long Game – Next steps

Tying up the morning’s mainstage content, the last word went to Mary Murphy, Senior Executive Officer, Meath Local Sports Partnership.

Our challenge is how do we make the opportunities for sustainable development more relatable to clubs. Small continuous steps will help us deliver successfully and ensure that our future generations continue to enjoy sport as we know it.”

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