Cuts chip away at fabric of our sport
The year 2012 will be a mixed one for sport. On the one hand, it's an Olympic year and there is also the European Championships to look forward to, plus all the other ups and downs we've come to expect in the sporting calendar.
But away from the bright lights there are dark days ahead.
When sport's funding was cut in last month's Budget it wasn't immediately apparent just how much it will suffer in the coming year, but in the last week that has certainly crystallised for all to see.
Because while cutting the Irish Sports Council's funding was well signalled, the real harm to sport was done well away from the Department of Sport. The real harm to Irish sport has in fact been done by ministers like Phil Hogan and James O'Reilly who have eaten mercilessly -- shamelessly even -- into the very fabric of everyday life.
Sure, the sports council is a significant arm in the distribution of funds for the benefit of Irish sport but it has a brief to adhere to. It funds our elite athletes as well as providing significant grant aid to over 60 organisations, most of whom would disappear into oblivion without this aid. The sports council money trickles all the way down to the grassroots through these associations and also through its funding of the local sports partnerships, most of which have been an unqualified success.
So, this year the sports council has €2m less to distribute, and it faces further similar cuts in the next three years also. The council's budget for the year is €44.5m, with further reductions penned in to reduce it to approximately €40m by 2015.
But, as painful as these cuts will be, they were well flagged and to some extent contingency plans have been made by organisations to tackle costs and make the best use of the money coming their way. Inevitably, though, there will be a great deal of frustration and anger out there, as witnessed in the current row between Athletics Ireland and some of our elite athletes. The sports council and its board is currently engaged in the process of allocating the money and spreading the pain as evenly as possible.
The real losers, however, will be the thousands of clubs across all the sports around the country that rely year to year on the community in which they operate and on the goodwill and enthusiasm of their friends and supporters to survive.
It's a safe bet to assume that for many the goodwill and enthusiasm won't falter, but the truth is that the ability to contribute as they would like has greatly diminished.
So Mr Hogan sticks his hand out for a €100 property tax -- and that's just for starters. And he sticks a few bob on your car tax too. And start saving because he wants you to pay for your water as soon as is convenient for him. (Charging for the privilege of drinking a glass of water in your own home seems to be the only bit of common ground between Hogan and his Green Party enemies. We'll never forget the Greens, who believed people had a basic right to watch the Heineken Cup for free but not to drink water.)
And his pal Mr Reilly has the hand out too. He might say otherwise, but his decision to increase the health insurance levy will ultimately hit families. More grist to the mill.
As those who were renting houses during the Celtic Tiger were told over and over again, paying rent is dead money. Well, this money we're being browbeaten to hand over to Hogan and Reilly is dead money too -- heading off on the first available wire transfer to our good friends in Berlin, Paris and Brussels.
And this is money that would have been available to local sports clubs to help them survive. And it's money that may have been used to buy tickets for games in Croke Park or the Aviva Stadium, or Thomond Park, or provincial grounds up and down the country, which would have trickled down the line to sports clubs to help them survive. Now it's bound for Europe. Dead money.
Sunday Indo Sport