Managing a sports club can take a great deal of sacrifice. Members and coaches often volunteer their time and energy for free, for the good of their community. So when the opportunity to lend a helping hand comes from those in Leinster House, one might feel that this is a positive step in developing a cohesive approach to sporting development. Not so, according to our two contributors on OTB:AM this morning, one of whom labelled the process for the Sports Capital Programme 'absurd' and 'disturbing'.
Minister Shane Ross and his Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have been criticised for the application process and decision-making involved with Programme allocations, the aims of which are three-fold, according to the Department's website:
- To assist voluntary and community organisations, national governing bodies (NGBs) of sport, local authorities and in some cases [Vocational Educational Committees] and schools to develop high quality, safe, well-designed, sustainable facilities in appropriate locations and to provide appropriate equipment to help maximise participation in sport and physical recreation
- To prioritise the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of sports facilities
- To encourage the multi-purpose use of local, regional and national sports facilities by clubs, community organisations and national governing bodies of sport
It is with particular regard to the second point that the decision to grant €150,000 to Wesley College for their hockey pitch has drawn particular opprobrium.
Paul Barrett from Neptune Basketball Club in Blackpool, Cork, joined us to discuss his application for money to service the roof of the club. Paul maintains that the roof was a particular emergency for his stewardship, as it is a means of maintaining the club's running, rather than even focusing on expansion. He let us into an application process that he labelled both 'absurd' and 'disturbing', as well as an appeals process - the likes of which successfully secured Wesley's funding - of which he had little to no knowledge.
"I got the usual one-liner back: 'We have received your query and will revert back to you in due course. I suppose what we are trying to do in our club is difficult enough - a lot of the time, it's like pushing a boulder up a hill. Then when you start to get these kind of dismissive responses from government officials and TDs - it does take the wind out of your sails, there's no doubt about it. We certainly didn't receive any help, direction or support - that's one thing that is for sure."
On the Departmental breakdown of the club's application, the club was deemed to have scored zero points on the criteria for sharing facilities and level of socio-economic disadvantage in the area was deemed suitable for allocation of funding. Paul reserved his strongest criticism for this aspect of the process:
"That was disturbing to read that. That conclusion is absurd. Anybody that looked into Blackpool's situation generally would discover quite quickly that it is in Cork City Council's programme for redevelopment. The schools in the area are at DEIS status. That really knocked me for six. I made representations on it, and the idea that we weren't in a disadvantaged area was absurd and should be looked it - but I didn't get anywhere with it."
Paul is by no means the only club representative to have come up against the obfuscation and bureaucracy of the scheme either. Alan Proctor, Secretary of Castle Villa AFC in Kildare, was in receipt of capital funding. However, his initial application for a shade under €28,000 yielded just €400. It was by dint of a minor mistake on the application process - providing a deed of ownership, rather than confirming the same in a booklet - that meant the funding fell to almost nil.
"It basically gave them the information that they wanted, but not in the format that they wanted. Somebody picked up our application, looked at this, deemed it partially invalid and proceeded as an 'equipment only' application just for the goalposts. We didn't find this out until the day the grants were announced in November, having had the application in since the end of February - nine months later."
Alan effectively felt that the application process is to the detriment of those clubs and members that have not been through the process before. On the appeals process available to the club:
"What the appeals procedure is is whoever wants to can give detailed reasons why they feel their application should not be deemed invalid. There's one line in that particular email that reads 'No changes to the original decision will be taken in cases where an applicant failed to upload the correct supporting documentation.' Based on that line, we took the decision not to appeal because we were after putting that amount of work into it [...] We didn't put in the correct document so we are not going to go ahead with it."
While Alan was deterred from appealing the decision, it was more the more general misuse of time within the Department to file it as invalid, rather than reaching out, and also a breakdown in communication that remains frustrating.
"There's a lack of communication, a lack of clarity and a lack of ease of finding out information that is the big problem for us."
The wider concern about the allocation of funding to certain affluent constituencies remains, and Minister Ross and the Department have questions to answer about both this and an application and approval process that has meant clubs around the country have missed out.