Grants programme needs fine-tuning to target those who are most in need
At a time when the financial power of the GAA in Dublin is intimidating the rest, Thursday's massive windfall for the county, courtesy of the sports capital programme, won't help the perception abroad that there is special treatment being meted out.
The timing is unfortunate. GAA clubs in Dublin were allocated just over €3.3m of the €23.47m awarded to the Association's clubs around the country.
From a total allocation of €56m then, 42 per cent was granted to GAA clubs. So while those clubs outside Dublin might be looking at how much their counterparts in the capital received (14 per cent of the GAA's slice), it's a fair bet that other sports are taking a rather different view of it all, and looking at the fact that the GAA picked up such a high portion of the 2017 allocation.
A total of 533 GAA clubs were successful. To put that in perspective, 230 soccer clubs received €7.5m, while 60 rugby clubs received €3.1m. The FAI expressed its satisfaction with its share.
This year's programme - the fourth since the scheme resumed in 2012 - was the clearest sign yet that there is huge ambition among sports clubs and community groups to improve their facilities as there were a record number of 2,320 applications.
"When we originally invited applications under the scheme, we had just €30m to allocate and the record level of applications would have left a large number of good projects unsupported and many clubs disappointed," said Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross on Thursday. "Happily, following the conclusion of budget discussions, I was delighted to secure the required additional resources to enable me to allocate €56m in total to local sports clubs and organisations throughout the country. The net result of this is that we are able to provide financial assistance towards over 1,700 different projects all over the country."
The Department of Sport points out that more than 10,000 projects have now benefited from sports capital funding since 1998. In that time it has invested €911m.
But maybe it's time to change the focus of the grants. Maybe it's time for a rethink. The sports capital programme has largely been an instrument of good. It has led to an improvement in the quality and quantity of sporting facilities around the country - even if it has also been the subject of a lot of criticism because of how politicised it has always been. In fairness, things appear to have improved on that front in recent years from the days when it was often no more than a slush fund for helping to buy votes.
The application procedure for clubs is being refined all the time and the number of invalid applications is falling. The process has been simplified so that mistakes in filling out the application form have been largely done away with and now the two biggest problems clubs face are satisfying the requirement to have proof of title and being able to show where the remainder of the funding for the proposed development is coming from. Every valid application received some level of financial support in this round of grants.
A total of 30 GAA clubs in Dublin were successful, 23 getting a six-figure sum and 11 getting the maximum of €150,000. Outside of Dublin, 16 GAA clubs received the maximum.
But what is more interesting is that the type of projects being supported - such as developing all-weather facilities, skills walls, clubhouse extensions - suggests that much of the financial support is going towards enhancing facilities that are already in place.
And this is where the rethink is required. There now needs to be a greater effort to distinguish between the haves and the have-nots. Some clubs have become expert at putting together strong applications that fit all the criteria and have an excellent track record when it comes to securing grant aid. This is particularly true in the GAA, which can typically call on expertise from within its ranks to do this simply because it has more members than anyone else.
Others are not so lucky. They do not have access to the same level of resources or expertise. A spokesperson for the Department points out: "All valid applications were assessed with a particular focus on whether the application was likely to increase participation in sport, whether the facility was being shared with other clubs, the level of socio-economic disadvantage in the area of the project and the level of funding previously provided to the club or organisation." But there are still a lot of clubs falling between the cracks.
The government needs to draw breath and get a handle on the situation in each county in terms of facilities. Then, rank the counties based on need, and use this ranking system as a key determinant in finalising the next round of grants. If that means putting the scheme on hold for a year while this is accomplished, then so be it.
We need to get an idea of what's needed. We need to know what the bigger picture is at the moment. Some clubs have been absolutely superb in developing their facilities and now they are fine-tuning, improving upon what they already have. Meanwhile, others have been left so far behind that unless they are targeted for assistance they might never recover.
Sunday Indo Sport