The Irish FA have released a new ‘progressive’ five-year corporate strategy aimed at guiding football at all levels within Northern Ireland until 2027 as the sport emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Called ‘A Roadmap For Football’, the IFA’s strategy will encompass 30 strategic objectives and over 100 individual actions aimed at promoting the game from grassroots right up to the elite level.
Not only that, but the strategy will also focus on improving facilities, generating revenue and engagement, while there will be a particular emphasis on women’s and girls’ football and corporate social responsibility.
Drawn up after discussions in 50 strategy workshops and working group meetings, while having also been discussed at length with stakeholders, ‘A Roadmap For Football’ will form the basis of the IFA’s strategy and planning moving forward.
The key aspects of the strategy are summed up in seven pillars, similar to those mentioned above: participation, performance, facilities, revenue, engagement, women’s and girls’ football, plus corporate social responsibility and sustainability.
Among the key points raised in the strategy, the need for more boys and girls to be playing the game is paramount, as is improving spectator experiences at stadia across the country, while building a new National Training and Development Centre for use by teams at all levels is also included.
On the pitch, as well as the obvious goal of having Northern Ireland’s men’s and women’s senior teams and underage level for both men and women competing at the highest level possible, there are other performance related goals outlined in the strategy.
Chief among those is the need for the football pyramid in Northern Ireland to support clubs who have ambitious aims, while also improving the number of coaches, officials and administrators within the game.
As well as that, Windsor Park is in line to be turned into a premium venue for conferences and other events through a £100m investment based on revenues brought in by the IFA, part of which will also be reinvested into the game.
Other objectives include establishing better working relationships with the various councils of Northern Ireland and the Assembly, as well as becoming a leading organisation when it comes to sustainability, equality, diversity and inclusion.
The IFA have also set themselves the target of generating £3bn in Social Return on Investment (SROI) for the community in the next five years, a figure based off UEFA’s GROW programme which, using research, showed that football has an economic, social and health impact worth £470m per year in Northern Ireland.
“Football in Northern Ireland has the ability to cross all divides. It has the power to be a tool to bring about great change,” commented IFA president Conrad Kirkwood.
"It can help educate, promote health and wellbeing, and give everyone an unparalleled sense of belonging. Most importantly football can promote inclusivity like no other sport.
“The global Covid pandemic presented real challenges for each one of us. As we emerge from the worst of those challenges football – and the people with a passion for it – has a real opportunity to improve people’s lives.
"I hope that this strategy will be a roadmap to deliver those improvements.”
The chairman of the Irish FA Board, Stephen Martin, said: “This strategy is progressive and will require determined effort from everyone at the association supported by leagues, clubs and the entire football family.”
Patrick Nelson, the IFA chief executive, added: “The vision, mission and values contained in this strategy will give us daily reminders of why we are here and what is expected of us.”