Modest funding increases falling short of the mark
FOR those of us keen to discover how sport fared in this year’s Budget, it was — as usual — a matter of rooting around in the undergrowth of the fine print with our fellow geeks to find out. The big news was a hefty wad of cash to be spent on facilities, at the National Sports Campus, on the Sports Capital Programme and €50m on a new scheme to target major developments, perhaps such as a new national cricket stadium. Now that Ireland is a Test-playing nation, developing a facility either on a greenfield site or, more likely, upgrading an existing venue has become more of a priority.
The bad news was a very modest increase of €1.5m (up to €48.5m) in the money given to Sport Ireland to fund all the national governing bodies. And the very bad news was that almost half of that has already been earmarked for the Gaelic Players’ Association for distribution among its members.
Ireland continues to lag behind others at elite level sport operating within the four-year Olympic cycle because of the ongoing refusal of the government to switch to multi-annual funding. To do so would see those sporting organisations working towards set targets and following recognised guiding principles (which many are already doing), being guaranteed a certain level of funding for each four-year cycle, which would then enable them to be more secure in their medium and long-term planning.
The Department of Sport, including successive senior and junior ministers, are known to be broadly supportive, and yet it still has not happened.
“The question of multi-annual funding was raised and explored but in terms of current spending that is a difficult part of very complex negotiations,” said junior minister Brendan Griffin last week.
The Taoiseach and Minister for Finance are former sports ministers and are well briefed on the strong argument in favour of multi-annual funding. The suspicion is that officials in their departments are harder to convince. The emotional arguments around spending on health, education and social welfare are persuasive, even if the link between spending on sport and all of these departments seems so obvious to many of us. If we spend money on getting people active then, in the long term, we won’t need to spend as much elsewhere.
The crumb of comfort offered is that the current level of funding should be viewed as a baseline. But this is not set in stone, and watch what happens the first time the Exchequer runs into a whiff of trouble — all bets will be off.
It is absolutely right that the Government should push on with the development of the National Sports Campus. Before the Budget, we already knew the next phase will see the construction of indoor pitches suitable for soccer, rugby and Gaelic games — indeed for most field sports — and that this will be completed by 2019. The cost will be more than €20m.
Last week it was confirmed €16m has now been made available to construct a velodrome and a badminton centre of excellence on the campus. This is obviously a game changer for cycling and badminton — sports in which we are enjoying a measure of success at the moment — but while we should applaud the ongoing determination of the Government to progress the campus, we should also remember that this is not a favour to the nation, it is simply something which must be done. We need the National Sports Campus, with all its state-of-the-art facilities, to offer meaningful support to our burgeoning high-performance mentality and expertise.
Across many sports we now have men and women of talent implementing sophisticated high performance regimes and the least they are entitled to is the proper facilities in which to work. They also need the proper resources, and this is where we are continuing to fall down. There is still not enough money to back it up.
There is no doubt that Ireland’s sporting intelligence is in a better place than it was before the economic downturn saw government support dramatically reduced. There is no doubt either that money given by the government is being put to far better use by Sport Ireland and most of the NGBs.
But we need to be realistic about, firstly, what it costs to properly resource high-performance sport and, secondly, about the difference multi-annual funding can make. High-cost sports, such as sailing, are still sadly lacking in adequate financial support to capitalise on its full potential, and on the success of Annalise Murphy. We are not talking about tens of millions here, but the kind of money which seems routinely wasted in other departments — like the €3.89m spent by the Department of Justice on a building that it never used — would go a long way in sport.
As someone famously said: A lot done, more to do.
There is still not enough money to back it up