Social Capital and Health in Irish Sports Policy

Katie/K Liston, Michael Rushe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In an era paradoxically characterized by relative affluence and prevailing unhealthy lifestyles, increasing the physical activity of adults and children has become an elusive public health imperative (Gannon, 2004: 2, Department of Health and Children, 1995, 2000: 72). Consequently competitive sports and team games, including Gaelic games, are becoming increasingly recast (from a public health perspective) as peripheral to the emerging overarching goals of health promotion and physical education. This was not always the case. The promotion of voluntarism and competitive sports for young people in the Gaelic Athletic Association was traditionally regarded as central to the creation of a strong national identity (Lee, 1989; Cronin 1999). In addition a State preference for a laissez faire approach to physical education was expressed through the Constitution, which set out an exclusive role for families to provide ‘according to their means’ for the physical education of their children under article 42.1. The primacy of voluntarism and the importance of community building have been consistently reiterated within a nascent sports policy in Ireland since the introduction of a modest State fund for sporting and youth organisations in 1969 in line with the Council of Europe (1966) ‘Sports for All’ ideology. This paper identifies a shift in policy emphasis away from a ‘Sports for All’ approach towards a more implicit emphasis on physical exercise and targeted health promotion (Fahey, Layte and Gannon 2004: 55). It contextualises this shift within quantitative and qualitative empirical data (NESF, 2003; Moore, 2004)) that reveal beneficial associations between sports, social capital and public health. Finally, the paper discusses the implications of interrelationships between tax exemption, gambling and funding for sports in Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-88
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2006


  • social capital
  • Irish sports policy


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