SPORTS organisations in the Newry, Mourne and Down District could find themselves on the brink unless financial assistance is forthcoming, writes Peter Bayne
Quite a few local GAA, soccer and Rugby clubs rely heavily on the revenue provided from their social clubs to maintain financial stability.
With the current lockdown in place, that vital source of revenue is no longer available.
The plight of the Clubs has been taken up in recent days by local SDLP MLA and former Armagh star Justin McNulty.
The SDLP Sport Spokesperson called on Finance Minister Conor Murphy to intervene and support sports clubs who are facing terrible financial hardship because the Finance Minister’s department have refused them access to the Localised Restrictions Support Grant.
Mr McNulty explained, ‘Many sports clubs across the north operate a social club as part of their premises and they were closed in line with the Executive’s Restrictions. These clubs are a key element to their sports club’s financial sustainability and if they don’t get help from the Localised Restrictions Support Scheme, some are facing a very precarious future.’
‘The Department received 467 applications from across the north from sports clubs with social clubs. Over half of these have been rejected by the Department. This is ridiculous and petty and just appears to be a case of bureaucratic red tape getting out of control.
“We now have the ridiculous situation where one club in a town or village is getting assistance, whereas, another equally deserving club is not.’
‘Bars are entitled to a minimum of £800 per week for each week of their closure. All bars were issued with the same guidance and told to close as part of the Executive’s restrictions’ announcements. They were all promised support, and, in fact all received the same support in 2020. However, now the Finance Minister’s Department are differentiating between the bars and social clubs. This is completely unacceptable and will push many sports clubs who totally rely on the income from their social club to the brink.’
‘This anomaly has arisen because some sports clubs have two separate LPS Rates Accounts for their playing facilities and their social club, whereas others have all their facilities on the one LPS Rate Account.’
‘Conor Murphy must intervene urgently. These clubs are pleading for help. We know the number of properties involved and this issue can be resolved quickly. Time cannot be wasted and this needs an urgent response.’
Some good news arrived on Friday when Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey confirmed that the assessment of applications from the sport sector to the £25M Sports Sustainability Fund, is on track.
The fund, which was designed in partnership with the sports Governing Bodies including the IFA, GAA and Ulster Rugby, is being administered by Sport NI.
It is designed to help clubs and governing bodies who have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Minister said: “The Sports Sustainability Fund has attracted significant interest with Sport NI receiving hundreds of applications from a diverse range of affiliated sports clubs through their respective Governing Bodies.
“The fund aims to provide financial support to sustain Governing Bodies and their clubs impacted by the ongoing Covid restrictions. It will help mitigate against the net losses that the sector has suffered.
“Sport NI are working at pace to assess the applications which are complex given the diverse nature of sport, and will be completed shortly with payments commencing before the end of February as planned.
“The Sustainability Fund will provide much needed financial support to the sector and will help sustain it so that when the time is right and it is safe we can all get back to being active, training, taking part in competitions or simply going to a game.”