Saturday 23 September 2017

Stars left in lurch after swingeing grant cuts

Irish athlete Fionnuala Britton
Irish athlete Fionnuala Britton
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

GOVERNMENT funding of sport may only have suffered a 2.9pc cut this year, but individual grant aid for the country's top athletes suffered a significant drop of over 20pc and will be reduced further in future after substantial changes to the 'carding' system.

The Sports Council has received €43m in government aid this year and announced yesterday where €33m of that will go, including €19.3m to national governing bodies (including €7.6m in 'participation grants' shared almost equally between soccer, GAA and rugby) and €8.6m for high performance sport.

But, in this post-Olympic year, there was a significant drop of €600,000 (from €2.34m in 2012 to €1.7m) in the grants given directly to individual athletes through the elite carding system, which many of them argue is most pivotal in helping them plan their annual training and competition schedules.

The Sports Council (ISC) confirmed that the carding scheme is set to reduce further in future years, as they give increased responsibility for elite funding to the high performance directors (PDs) of each sport, arguing that the PDs and governing bodies can make up for any shortfalls through their separate high performance plans and budgets.

The carding scheme has certainly undergone a serious haircut.

Compared to 2012, when 153 carding grants were given out in 23 different sports, only 87 athletes in 16 sports will receive personal grants this year.

Only 18 athletes (27 last year) have received the maximum grant (€40,000) – just one in athletics (Robert Heffernan), five in boxing (all Olympic medallists plus Joe Ward), two sailors (Annalise Murphy and Peter O'Leary) and 10 Paralympians who all medalled in London 2012.

Sports like tennis, table-tennis, gymnastics, taekwondo, fencing, archery and wrestling have been dropped from carding completely, while teams and development athletes were also removed, which most affects hockey, which came so close to qualifying a men's and women's team for London 2012.

Athletics (down by €128,000) and rowing (down €90,000) also suffered considerable carding losses.

Heroes

Irish boxers also lost €127,000 in carding, despite bringing home four medals from London, and Sports Council officials admitted that they have maintained the top level of funding for some boxers partly to stop Olympic heroes like Katie Taylor, John Joe Nevin, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes leaving to join the pro ranks.

The recent review of the carding scheme suggested that successful athletes, with the ability to raise a lot of personal sponsorship, may no longer need the top level of funding, and also noted that boxing's squad system means they may not need as much individual funding as elites in other sports.

But the ISC's high performance director Finbarr Kirwan said they have maintained the top level of carding for many boxers because their system has proven its worth and also because it has helped stop them turning professional.

The ISC previously operated a cash bonus for international medals but have dispensed with this in their latest cutbacks.

However Kirwan clarified that each sport can still operate this bonus scheme from within their own coffers and that this will operate in boxing.

There are still clear anomalies in the carding system.

Mayo boxer Ray Moylette, despite being a 2011 European champion like Ward, has been dropped from the scheme, while Kenneth Egan, who recently retired, has received €12,000, apparently because he will be playing a coaching role.

Moylette's omission appears to be due to his injuries last year, but Kirwan stressed that he will still be substantially supported by the IABA.

Professional road cyclists like Nicolas Roche and Daniel Martin no longer qualify for carding and Martyn Irvine, who recently won two medals at the World Track Championships, receives just €12,000 because funding is based only on 2012 performances.

In 2012, four track and field athletes (Olive Loughnane, Heffernan, Derval O'Rourke and David Gillick) received the maximum €40,000 each, but only Heffernan has retained that.

Loughnane has since retired, Gillick, injured last year, has been cut completely, while O'Rourke, despite her heroics, has been cut to €12,000 on the basis of her 2012 performances.

Eyebrows were raised that rising stars like Mark English, Steven Colvert and Ciara Everard were not included, but AAI's high performance director Kevin Ankrom stressed that they will be well funded through AAI's high performance plans – they are expected to get individual grants of €10,000 through that.

Irish Independent

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