Tuesday 21 November 2017

No reason why €30m cannot go a long way

John Greene

John Greene

It comes as no surprise that the sports capital programme has been massively oversubscribed. Still, the figures published last week by minister for sport Michael Ring were an eye-opener.

In total, 2,152 sports clubs applied for a slice of the €30m pie that has been made available by the government; the amount of money sought in those applications is a staggering €224.3m to help towards projects of varying scales costing almost €370m. As Ring pointed out last week, for every euro the government can give, clubs have sought €7.50.

"We would love to support every deserving project," he said, "but the harsh reality of life is that there are limits to what we can do. That is why expectations have to be realistic. There is an insatiable demand for funding and there will still be a large number of disappointed applicants."

Previous incarnations of the sports capital programme were highly contentious, given the tendency of the last regime to use it as a political slush find. It is likely there will be a high level of scrutiny when the final grants are published. There is little tolerance now for blatant displays of political favouritism. Ring and his officials seem to be acutely aware of this and have been at pains to be as transparent as possible.

In that context, some exchanges in the Dáil last week are worth noting. Ring was asked by TDs from both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael about the level of applications from their own constituencies, drawing the following response: "There were 1,453 applications worth €293 million in 2008, but only 685 groups got funding, even though the Government of the day had €50 million to spend. I have 2,152 applications to date and I have €30 million available. It is small money when put into the overall context."

More constituency questions followed, and Ring was again to his feet. "Shared facilities will be the big issue because resources are so scarce at present. If the Deputy thinks he has problems in Kildare, I will tell him what is happening in Mayo, as I was expecting someone to ask me that question. Mayo has applications for 114 projects worth €15.745 million, so they will be looking for 50% of the pot. What can I do? We all have problems.

"I want to dampen down expectations. I ask all Members of the House not to be leading groups up the garden path. There is no point telling them there is a pot of gold when there is not. There is a small amount of money and we will try to distribute that as fairly as possible. I do not want expectations to be raised. I know there are Deputies who are already showing the list and asking people to make applications. That is one of the things that happened during this round. I am disappointed that people were brought to public meetings, encouraged to make applications and encouraged to contact and put pressure on their TDs. We have only €30 million and it will not be easy to distribute it."

Last week's publication of the final figures included a county-by-county breakdown, and a promise that each application will be carefully assessed against a number of strict criteria, including: likely beneficial effect on participation; level of disadvantage in club's area; the level of funding being provided independently by the club; whether the facilities will share with other clubs or sports; and, previous allocations awarded to the club in the programme.

The government's view is that the programme is there to 'foster an integrated and planned approach to developing sports and physical recreation facilities' around the country.

And the sheer volume of applications shows up two things: firstly, the folly of the previous government's decision to scrap the scheme in 2008, and, secondly, that there is a desperation at local level among sporting organisations. Most know that on the one hand to stand still is to fall behind, but for many clubs the next step in their evolution if they are to go forward requires development. And this, of course, requires spending money that in all likelihood isn't there and which can only be obtained three ways -- through fundraising, through a bank loan and through a grant. All three are, sadly, very difficult avenues for clubs these days.

So, as officials begin the process of sifting through the applications, they should be aware that the majority of clubs in their bundle are desperate for any kind of support. Naturally, there will be some frivolous applications but they should be easily identified. All those then deemed to have a worthy project should receive some level of support, no matter how small, because, believe me, they will all be grateful. There is no reason why €30m can't be made to go a long way.

The construction of sports facilities in communities generates employment which is of benefit to the state and to a local economy. It is generally accepted now that a €1 investment by the government in facilities generates €2 to the economy. Then there are the savings down the road in spending on health because more facilities lead to increased participation, which leaves a lasting impact on health and well-being.

Sunday Indo Sport

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