27 September, 2011

Basketball farce sums up funding flaws:

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Basketball Ireland is feeling the heat
            In the Dáil last week a question was tabled about the government's future plans for the Sports Capital Programme, which was shut down in 2008. It was not the first time in the last three years the question has been posed, and despite the ministerial comings and goings, the answer hasn't changed: no decision has been taken yet.
During the boom years, the programme paid out over €700m to somewhere in the region of 7,400 projects. And while it undoubtedly achieved much good, it was tainted by the whiff of political interference. Too many projects were financially supported chiefly because of which constituency they were in.
             The scheme arguably also served to widen the gap between the stronger and better resourced sporting bodies and their smaller rivals in that the former were always better equipped to tick all the boxes when it came to completing the layers of paperwork needed to successfully draw down funding. But while political interference, favouritism and elitism were rife in the programme, it had other failings too.
Questions surrounding acquisition of funds need to be answered
             As we have seen over the last two years, there were extraordinary levels of waste in public spending over the last decade. This, coupled with a lack of transparency and accountability in government departments, and, in many cases, dreadful inefficiencies, cost the country dear.
             And the administration of the Sports Capital Programme was no different, as highlighted by the question marks which hang over money given to Basketball Ireland between 1999 and 2006.    
             Over this period, the association received a total of €1.8m for an initiative called the Community Hoops Programme which, quite literally, did what it says on the tin, installing basketball hoops in community facilities around the country. Except, it now appears, it didn't do exactly what it says on the tin.
              Basketball Ireland was responsible for purchasing the equipment and making it available to community groups who were then responsible for putting the new gear in place. However, of the €1.8m Basketball Ireland received from the State for its hoops programme, only 20 per cent of the equipment for which the money was given was put in place. In other words, the government paid for 1,720 sets but it is estimated that only 345 have been accounted for, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General's annual report for 2010.
              So, if and when the Sports Capital Programme returns, in some form or other, the government must ensure it is administered to the highest possible standards, and that recipients are both deserving and scrupulous.
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