Ireland will go to the polls on Saturday to elect a new government. It seems certain that the political landscape in Ireland will change, and there will be consequences for Irish sporting bodies.
Considering one of the last acts of Leo Varadkar's government will be the €30million bailout of the FAI, it's worth asking how the next government will approach future funding crises that Irish sporting bodies might find themselves in.
Because if we know one thing about sporting associations in Ireland, it's that there will be crises.
One sporting association who didn't receive much in the way of support from the Irish government when it was enmeshed in an existential financial crisis in 2008 was Basketball Ireland. This period of austerity had many consequences for the sport itself, like an inability to fund international team programmes. Basketball Ireland was not bailed out by the government and soldiered on. In the last few years, the sport has emerged from this dark period.
This morning, Basketball Ireland released a statement calling on the next Irish government to sit down with its board to discuss future funding that will help the sport reach its true potential on this island. The statement criticised the government's seeming 'double standards' by choosing not to "bailout sports that fall outside what are considered the popular sports".
This is one of the many consequences of Shane Ross's FAI bailout. As we have documented on this site numerous times over the past few years, basketball has thrived across the country, especially at underage level. Basketball epitomises so many of the things that we really truly value in Ireland in 2020: rabid grassroots following, something close to gender parity, inclusivity. All of its metrics are pointing upwards. Participation levels have doubled in the last eleven years and the sport has grown 60% in the past five years. Basketball is the most played sport in Irish physical education classes. The sport is having a positive impact on the lives of many people in the country, and yet it might have disappeared entirely were it not for its supporters and their fanatical love of the game.
Basketball has come through a crisis and is in rude health. It could teach the Irish government and the FAI a lot about weathering a financial storm. Expect more sporting bodies to speak out in the coming days and weeks enquiring why one sport should receive higher levels of government support than others.
Read the entire statement here:
The Board at Basketball Ireland calls upon all political parties and candidates currently looking for support from the large basketball community around Ireland to commit to meeting with our representatives as soon as a new government is formed, in order to listen to our case for a fresh look at our funding to help us administer and promote our sport to help it progress even further.
The basketball community in Ireland has been following with interest the announcement surrounding another major sports body, which has benefited from a funding agreement in recent days to allow it time and resources to recover from financial difficulties. While we wish those involved in that sport the very best in navigating their way through what will undoubtedly be a difficult few years to come, the Board wishes to express the frustration of many basketball enthusiasts in our 300,000+ strong community, as it would appear that double standards may be at play for sports that fall outside what are considered the popular sports.
In 2008, when Basketball Ireland ran into financial difficulties, we found ourselves with an unexpected black hole of debt and financial penalties totalling €1.5 million.
At our darkest time, a similar agreement to that which was awarded last week would have considerably changed the trajectory of Basketball Ireland, and would have proven to be a lifeline. Instead, the organisation entered a difficult period with no financial assistance and was forced to:
- Call an immediate halt to our international team programmes, thus damaging the career prospects of a large number of underage players.
- Make half of our employees redundant.
- Reduce the debt through putting a levy on our own members.
- Basketball Ireland was deemed ineligible for the Capital Sports Programme for five years until the above had been achieved.
- The Government imposed a significant fine on us, which served to worsen our financial position.
- A significant grant, which had been approved for the refurbishment of the National Basketball Arena, was abruptly withdrawn and never reinstated.
Since then, Basketball Ireland has turned its position around completely while receiving no financial help, but plenty of plaudits.
A quick overview of basketball today:
- Basketball Ireland re-instated all international programmes thanks to fantastic support from parents and members across the country, who continue to help part-fund these squads.
- Basketball Ireland now has an estimated 300,000 strong basketball community.
- Our sport has grown by 60% in the past five years, and is continuing to flourish year on year.
- We have almost a 50-50-gender participation split.
- We have established a clear pathway for the future generation of players with the introduction of our Regional and Provincial Academies, which help to put players from as young as Under 14 on a clear pathway to the elite level of our sport.
- Our National Leagues continue to grow year on year, with new clubs joining every season.
- At secondary school level, we continue to be one of the most popular sports in the country with over 860 post primary schools involved in our competitions.
- At primary school level, the recently released “Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study” showed that participation in basketball for this age group has doubled since 2009, and basketball is in the top three of the most participated sports for children of this age.
- According to that report, basketball also ranked as the number one sport for content covered in PE classes.