Irish basketball is hopping mad and it's got every right to be.
he government's €30m bailout of the FAI has stirred memories of what happened when Basketball Ireland found itself a mere €1.4m in debt back in 2008. No bailout was forthcoming then so the governing body had to scrap its international teams for six years and lay off half its employees. To add insult to injury the sport was disallowed from applying for capital funding for five years.
Basketball Ireland Chief Executive Bernard O'Byrne has revealed that they get an annual €750,000 from Sport Ireland which is €200,000 less than ten years ago, although association membership has grown by 65 percent in that time.
Most frustratingly of all, they've spent the last 18 months trying to arrange a meeting with outgoing Minister for Sport Shane Ross, only to be persistently rebuffed. You didn't have time for just one meeting with them? Shame, Ross.
I think bailing out the FAI was a good idea. The alternative was bankruptcy and the wholesale loss of jobs. I also don't have any sympathy for the notion that the government should have let the FAI sweat it out for a while longer. This kind of tough talk is grand, but the people doing the sweating would have been coaches and office staff, some of whom earn less than the national average wage. They didn't cause the problem so why punish them for it?
That doesn't change the fact that basketball has been treated abominably. The sense of injustice is increased because this is the third most popular participation sport for Irish children.
Basketball is asking for very little. Just €300,000 would cover the costs of international competition and alleviate to some degree a situation where parents are having to pay out considerable sums of money to keep those teams going. The €500,000 grant they need to refurbish the National Basketball Arena, and have been persistently denied, would come in handy too.
No-one would argue that basketball is as popular a sport in this country as soccer. But the discrepancy of treatment is entirely unjust. Take that €30m for example. Maybe, just maybe, the FAI could have been asked to get by on €28m or €29m and the money saved could have been given to Basketball Ireland to give them a fair shot.
The parsimony exhibited by the state when it comes to funding the less glamorous sports is in stark contrast to the cavalier way they fling money at Gaelic games, soccer and rugby. Take the €30m Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin decided to bestow on Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2014 after GAA Director General Páraic Duffy went over the head of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and appealed directly to then Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
Department officials warned that the GAA already got more funding than anyone else, yet Howlin paid out the money towards a project which was supposed to cost €70m. As we know now, it ended up costing over €100m and you could argue that this largesse merely encouraged Cork County Board's carelessness. The government had apparently no interest in monitoring the way its money was being spent.
Just last month the government gave €20m to Connacht Rugby to redevelop the stadium at the Sportsground in Galway, which was actually €10m more than the department's spending limit. Questioned about the necessity for such funding when the IRFU could have covered the cost, government chief whip, and at the time of writing Galway West TD, Sean Kyne defended the decision on the basis that, "I couldn't be sure that the IRFU could give a financial commitment."
Well, they were hardly going to give it when they knew the government was going to provide the money. Wouldn't you just love to play poker against these guys? They also threw in €10m for the RDS, home to another well-heeled professional rugby team, while they were at it.
The Gospel According to Matthew (13:12) tells us that, "To him who has more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away." Successive Irish governments seem to regard this as sound policy advice.
Because while they trip over themselves to lavish money on the high profile sports, elsewhere it's a case of make do and mend. Last year Olympic medallists Paul and Gary O'Donovan found themselves having to borrow a boat and pay their own way to international competitions because rowing was effectively penalised for success. With an increase in the number of world-class performers not being matched by an increase in funding, the sport had to cut corners to compete internationally.
Another great Irish success story, amateur boxing, seems on the face of it to be well funded. Yet the €1.245m it received from Sport Ireland last year is less than the €1.565m given to horse sport and just slightly more than the €1.185m given to sailing, although the communities where boxing is strong tend to have much less access to other funding sources than those which favour horse sport and sailing.
The arrogance of the bigger sports rankles. As the revelations of financial mismanagement at the FAI grew ever more serious, national team manager in-waiting Stephen Kenny complained about Sport Ireland's reluctance to restore funding. Niall Quinn believes soccer should get increased state funding in the future as its importance hasn't been properly recognised in the past.
This takes some chutzpah given the FAI's cavalier attitude to the money it did get. The bailout should disqualify the Association from any increase in funding for years to come.
The GAA are equally self-important with that immortal phrase, 'the government can never repay the GAA for all its done for this country', rearing its hoary head at the time of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh pay-out. But doing something for the country in the past doesn't entitle you to eternal and unconditional state support.
One justification for spending on stadium developments is that the big matches played there 'benefit the local economy,' which usually means that they benefit local hoteliers and publicans and the odd taxi driver. In any case, if the local economic benefit is so great, why don't the local business community fund the stadiums? Wouldn't they be up on the deal in the long term?
Sports funding can't be divorced from the overall political context. There is no better illustration of the hubris which led to economic disaster a decade ago than an infamous TV interview in which then Minister for Sport Jim McDaid pooh-poohed objections to the proposed billion-dollar Bertie Bowl on the grounds that "we have plenty of money."
The Bertie Bowl idea was perhaps the prime example of how much politicians love vanity sports projects. That mindset hasn't gone away. Witness Dublin City Council's decision to build a €22m white water rafting project at a time when the city's public swimming pool provision is at an all-time low. That this decision was taken by an ostensibly left-wing council shows that hubris knows no ideological boundaries.
Politicians in general suffer from an Edifice Complex. They like big projects which yield big headlines and have big opening ceremonies where big photographs are taken. Yet the public good in this area will be best served by smarter spending on smaller-scale developments. We need more cycle lanes, more community indoor sporting facilities, more green spaces in the estates which were thrown up willy-nilly during the Tiger era, more public swimming pools and more playgrounds and more places where people can run.
We also need to try to make the sporting landscape more diverse. Too many kids drop out of sport because they're not cut out for some form of football. There are sports which might suit them better but which they never get to try. We also need to realise that an increasing amount of sporting participation is of the non-competitive variety and adjust spending accordingly.
There needs to be an end to the wasteful duplication of resources. Instead, spending on multi-sport community-owned venues should be a priority. Clubs whose membership fees were judged too high were denied funding this year in the name of inclusivity. So why fund GAA clubs who don't permit other sports to be played at their venues? That attitude is the last remainder of a ban mentality that sits ill in a very different Ireland.
The new minister for sport will have a lot to do. But one of the first things they should do is to meet with Basketball Ireland and give them what they're looking for. It's only fair. I don't know how yesterday's vote will have panned out, but I suspect it will, above all else, have been a vote for doing politics differently.
Let's start with sport.