Questioning the Sports Capital Funding Programme

Bernie McGuire
Bernie McGuire

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Do you ever have one of those days when you get infuriated by something in the news, blood vessels bulging in your neck as you hold back the scream threatening to tear from your throat, only to calm down as you see the problem from the other person’s point of view.

The Sports Capital Programme did that to me last week. It didn’t help that it was a Sinn Fein Deputy (Imelda Munster) who was banging her drum about how unfair the funding allocations had been after the conclusion of the appeals process.

What was so infuriating was that she was tarring every golf club with the same brush: namely that they are elitist establishments not deserving of tax-payers money. It is clear from Deputy Munster’s comments that many of the non-golfing fraternity still regard golf as a sport played only by rich people across beautifully manicured courses before retiring to opulent clubhouses. Yes, that happens, but it is only at a tiny percentage of clubs.

When the Sports Capital Programme was published last year golfers and golf clubs must have been delighted as their slice of the €56 million pie amounted to €1.96 million. Practice facilities, machinery, clubhouse repairs and drainage in many clubs were going to be fixed, upgraded or introduced. They are all essential for a golf club to thrive and survive, and there are many clubs out there hanging on by their fingernails. This money is therefore vital to the health of the game.

Something that Munster is no doubt ignorant of is that golf has one of the highest participation rates of any sport in Ireland.
‘A Satellite Account for Golf in the Republic of Ireland’ report, published in March 2017, indicated that over 160,000 people play golf at least once every four weeks. This  equates to 4.5 per cent of the adult population and ranks Ireland second highest in terms of golf participation globally. Scotland, not surprisingly, leads the way on 7 per cent.

What’s more, in terms of weekly participation, golf is our fifth most popular sporting activity (out of 105) behind swimming, running, cycling and soccer. Finally, from a financial perspective, €379 million is spent annually on golf in this country.

It is a sport fully deserving of support.

Now for the flip-side when you see the argument from another’s point of view.

Imelda Munster singled out Malahide Golf Club, which was one of five golf courses that successfully appealed their request for funding. The club received €150,000 to improve their practice facilities. Munster then referenced a gymnastics programme in Fatima Mansions, Rialto, South Dublin, which received €489. Ballynacargy Boxing Club, Co Westmeath, had its appeal for funding to repair its clubhouse rejected completely.

Despite a total of €58.5 million being allocated (€56m plus €2.5m in appeals) to 1,700 different projects nationwide, over 600 applications failed. Many worthy causes may have been ignored by the Sports Capital Programme, while others received derisory amounts.

Does Malahide Golf Club need that €150,000 more than Ballynacargy Boxing Club needs whatever sum to do up its clubhouse? Probably not, so it is easy to see why Deputy Munster was giving out stick… and easy to see why people are calling for the process to be re-evaluated. I too would agree that it should, especially with €150,000 being awarded to the private Wesley College to resurface their hockey pitch.

Consider that 30 public schools had funding applications rejected and then ask yourself why a private school in Minister Shane Ross’s constituency was more deserving.

So, the system sucks but that’s not the fault of Malahide Golf Club or any of the other golf clubs that received funding. They followed the process and reaped the reward for making strong applications.

In all, 70 golf clubs received €2.42 million in funding which equates to 4.1 per cent of the total amount allocated. This is a seven fold increase on the 2015 funding of €332,000, shared by just 12 clubs.

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