Mod­est fund­ing in­creases fall­ing short of the mark

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - JOHN GREENE

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

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