Sport Ireland’s Change the Game campaign

Attending the launch of Sport Ireland’s Change the Game campaign at the Sport Ireland campus in Dublin (left to right): Paralympic swimmer Róisín Ní Ríain, Kerry footballer Stefan Okunbor, Irish Olympic boxer Michaela Walsh and Republic of Ireland international footballer Savannah McCarthy. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Sport Ireland has launched the Change the Game campaign to support Sport Ireland’s Diversity and Inclusion in Sport policy, which expresses its vision for a sport sector that celebrates diversity, promotes inclusion and is proactive in offering lifetime participation opportunities for all.

The Diversity and Inclusion Policy has identified a number of strategic pillars which will guide Sport Ireland in implementing the policy. These pillars are: change, communication, access, capacity and leadership.

Launching the campaign, Kerry footballer Stefan Okunbor said: “There have never been any obstacles in my way of doing sport, from Gaelic to athletics and football. When I was younger I was always encouraged to play Gaelic football. I was a local kid; football is all we talk about in Kerry, and it’s what you play. It strengthened my sense of belonging to the community.

He added: “I believe we are going to see so many inter-county players on the pitch in the future, reflecting the Ireland we live in today. I see it at my own club now – there are about five kids playing in a minor team who, like me, have African heritage. It’s something huge.

Irish international soccer player Savannah McCarthy commented: “Before me, you had never heard of a female traveler playing soccer. I was very atypical. Now I hope the young girls and boys on the trip will say, “Look what she did, I want to do it.” And clubs and coaches must help them achieve this.

Savannah continued, “I was brought up to never judge anyone until you talk to them and get to know them. So I encourage clubs to welcome and be open to everyone in their community because kids are all the same – all they want to do is play sports and have fun.

Michaela Walsh, one of Ireland’s leading Olympic boxers who recently won gold at the Commonwealth Games, is also backing the campaign. Walsh is a proud member of the LGBT community and is currently preparing for the upcoming European Championships.

She said: “I take pride in being myself and it allows me to perform to the best of my abilities in my sport. I have always found acceptance in boxing and boxing clubs. I would tell anyone interested in boxing to go to your local club – you will find a home there and learn one of the toughest sports in the world in a supportive space.

Speaking at the launch, rising Paralympic swimming star Róisín Ní Ríain, who recently won two bronze medals at the World Para Swimming Championships, said: “In Limerick, where I train, all swimmers from high level train together. I thrive on being in a large group of people with so much competition. You have swimmers preparing for the Olympics and the Paralympics all training together; it is a wonderful thing. I’m treated the same way and I like it.

Róisín offered advice on how clubs could be open and inclusive: “You may not know anything about an athlete’s specific disability, so ask the athlete to tell you what they are going through and learning together and see what works.”

The Game Changer campaign calls on everyone involved to think about how they can play their part by visiting

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