Friday 15 December 2017

Eamonn Sweeney: Grants scheme lacking cop-on and consistency

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Eamonn Sweeney

The Sports Council grants to individual sportspeople under the Carding Scheme are a disgrace. They were a disgrace last year as well but this time around there's a side order of hypocrisy to go with the usual ration of bone-headed stupidity.

You see there was a lot of tough talk leading up to the announcement of this year's grants. Last year the Sports Council took the loony decision to give everyone the same amount of money they'd had the previous year, regardless of current form, because there was apparently some kind of important review of the scheme going on. The word was that there would be cutbacks and that the Council would be very rigorous about funding in 2013.

So you get a decision like the one to cut Derval O'Rourke's annual funding from €40,000 to €12,000. This may seem harsh given that in the past year the Cork athlete has reached the Olympic semi-finals and finished fourth in the European Indoors. But perhaps, just perhaps, it could be justified on the grounds that times are hard, funds are short and the Council have been forced to make tough decisions.

The problem is that the Council is very selective in its toughness. Because while Derval O'Rourke will be getting €12,000 so will Kenneth Egan, something which brings the whole scheme into the most serious disrepute. It was bad enough that last year Egan received funding of €30,000, for performers considered to have a serious chance of winning a medal at a major championships, at a time when he was already out of Olympic contention after getting hammered by Joe Ward in the nationals.

But it's utterly ludicrous that he now gets €12,000 after announcing his retirement. Sports Council high-performance director Finbarr Kirwan has justified the decision on the grounds that, "We want to make sure that we do the right thing for a fella who has done so much for Irish sport". This is Grade A populist grá mo chroí bullshit. An organisation which has just cut funding by 20 per cent shouldn't be handing out golden handshakes to retired boxers, especially when they're unable to find a single penny for reigning European champion Ray Moylette or national champions Hugh Myres, Declan Geraghty, Seán McComb, and Tommy McCarthy.

For that matter, why does John Joe Joyce, a perennial funding favourite, get €12,000 when Willie McLaughlin who defeated him in this year's national semi-finals gets nothing? Joyce hasn't won a national title since 2010 yet is judged more worthy of funding than four reigning Irish champions, two of whom, McComb and McCarthy, recently medalled at the Usti Nad Labem Grand Prix.

Last year Joyce received €30,000. Adam Nolan, the national champion in Joyce's weight division who went on to the Olympics, got nothing. Tommy McCarthy had his best year at international level last year, making the semi-finals of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Turkey. His reward is to have his funding cut completely. Perhaps he'd have done better grant-wise if he didn't fight at all. It works for Kenneth Egan.

If the Sports Council are in a sentimental mood, why not give world 20km walk silver medalist Olive Loughnane twelve grand? She recently retired as well.

Equally unforgivable is the paltry €12,000 awarded to Martyn Irvine who recently won double gold in the world cycling championships. Too recently, according to the Sports Council, because the grants are being awarded for performances in 2012 and Irvine won his gold medals this year. This is bureaucratic claptrap. The Sports Council knew Irvine was a double world champion when they made their awards and have rewarded a man who spoke about how hard it is for him to keep going on low funding with a repeat of that same pathetically low funding.

Race walker Colin Griffin has seen his money cut altogether after being disqualified in the Olympic 50km walk. The problem is that he's bounced back from that to become one of only three Irish athletes so far to qualify for this year's World Championships in Moscow. And the two most notable Irish failures at the Olympics, pole vaulter Tori Pena and marathon runner Catríona Jennings, have retained their €12,000 funding. Which means the Sports Council sees them as equal to Derval O'Rourke.

This famous review the Sports Council were so keen on also recommended that athletes who were able to raise funding themselves might be omitted from the grant system. There's obviously no heed being passed on that recommendation given the award to Katie Taylor of €40,000. Given the Olympic gold medallist's current national profile, I'm sure there's no shortage of advertising agencies who'd give her a lot more than that for a few hours' work. Then again at least she's still competing. Perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies in the crazy world of Irish sports funding.

It's laughable really. But when the joke is on the likes of Derval O'Rourke and Martyn Irvine, there's nothing funny about it.

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