SPOIL SPORTS: Sector cries foul over Govt funding overhaul

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EXCLUSIVE | State sporting groups are pleading with the Marshall Government to rethink a new funding model they say is “ripping the heart out of the sector” and sending grassroots organisations to the wall, with one warning it will be forced to close its doors at the end of the month.

Recreation and Sport Minister Corey Wingard this month declared a “bold new approach to get South Australians active more often”, with a new $2.3 million grants program, to be divided between 19 projects.

It’s in response to the Marshall Government’s Game On: Getting South Australia Moving initiative, “where grant applicants must work with at least one other organisation to deliver their project”.

But state-run grassroots sporting organisations say the new grant model strips funding from their sector, diverting it instead towards big-money stakeholders, private providers and councils.

Sport SA has requested an urgent meeting with Wingard, which it’s understood has been granted – but not till the end of the month, after the state budget has been handed down.

In a letter from the peak grassroots body, seen by InDaily, CEO Leah Cassidy says Sport SA and Inclusive Sport SA have written to members “expressing our dismay” at the new grant funding arrangements.

It’s a significant shift, and probably speaks to the Government’s privatisation agenda

“We are not convinced that Government has a full appreciation of the devastating impact this will have and the full implications for our state sporting organisations,” she writes.

“The response to this has been immediate and quite devastating to hear, including one member who may not now survive as a State Sporting Organisation.”

That’s believed to refer to Triathlon SA, whose executive director Jesse Mortensen has written a separate letter to the minister expressing “profound concern regarding the restructure of funding that has been progressively announced over the last month”.

Mortensen describes a “catastrophic shift away from supporting the sports sector”, saying: “We are in for the fight of our lives as entities.”

Three weeks of celebrating sporting infrastructure grants, then you ripped the heart out of the sports sector

“Some will close their doors this year, with many more predicted next year,” he said.

“For our part, our office will close June 30, 2021.

“Ironically, our partnership grant application aimed to address the very problem of sustainability.”

In his letter, which was copied to Office for Recreation, Sport and Racing CEO Kylie Taylor and Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas, Mortensen writes: “Your department orchestrated a textbook sandwich manoeuvre: three weeks of celebrating sporting infrastructure grants, then ripped the heart out of the sports sector via diverting 70 per cent of sport sector funding away from state sporting organisations – and then immediately reopened facility funding submissions 48 hours later.”

“Many see this as dirty politics, Minister [but] we see that you have more integrity than this and ask for an explanation on this conduct.”

He urged Wingard to “engage in immediate consultation with State Sporting Organisations to gauge the impacts of your department’s actions”.

“This is not a lack-of-money issue, this is about the choice you and your department made regarding where to distribute the money – your department made a choice to prioritise facilities, private entities, universities and councils and the impacts of those decisions are devastating,” he said.

“In essence, there is a large portion of the sector that relies on this funding support so must chase this rabbit or risk closing the doors.”

Contacted by InDaily, Cassidy said the new funding structure represented “a real shift in government policy and agenda”, arguing while the $2.3 million funding bucket “was not huge”, the significant change was quarantining 70 per cent of the money for “private providers”.

“It’s a significant shift, and probably speaks to the Government’s privatisation agenda,” she said.

New buildings are great, but we need to have sport operating in order to keep the lights on in those buildings

She said Sport SA participated in the grants review process, advocating for the funding model to be “shifted towards bringing sport together to be funded collectively”.

“That certainly hasn’t been the outcome of this decision,” she said.

“This is a fundamental pivot away from providing a stream of funding to sport that allows them to grow participation.”

Instead, she argued, the Government was now focused on building sports infrastructure, rather than funding the organisations that use it.

“New buildings are necessary, they’re great… but we need to have sport operating in order to keep the lights on in those buildings,” she said.

In an email to members, Sport SA expresses “extreme disappointment in the outcomes of the partnership grants for our industry as a whole”.

“We understand that this outcome will significantly impact the operations of many of our members,” the missive says.

“We also see this as an enormous lost opportunity that directly contradicts what we believed to be the intent of the partnership grant program.”

The message says that Sport SA, Inclusive Sport SA and Recreation SA, had advocated for a grants program that allowed “sport and recreation – not private providers –  to be funded in a way that reduced the competitive grant processes and duplication of effort, and provided an avenue for shared learning and effort across codes”.

“The role of Sport SA, Inclusive Sport SA and Recreation SA was to bring together the sector and assist in the development of the projects as a guide and not be a competitor for funding,” it states.

The email reveals the working group members were “not given access to the final submission to the Minister and from what we understand, the review had multiple revisions before the new projects were announced”.

“Our concerns were raised at the time that the projects were announced, however we hoped that the final outcome would still meet our intended outcomes… sadly, many of the funded projects appear not to have an element of whole-of-industry innovation and capacity-building, and largely the funding (approximately 70 per cent) has flowed to private providers, not to State Sporting Organisations,” the body writes.

Baseball SA’s Sarah Kelly told InDaily her organisation “absolutely” shared Sport SA’s concerns “about financial sustainability and what the future looks like”.

“Our grant funding has been consistently cut over the last six years from $145,000 down to $50,000 for the coming year, so when you consider a $95,000 loss of funding over six years for a small sport, there’s not a lot of opportunity to raise that revenue through other means such as membership, tournaments or events,” she said.

“Small sports just don’t have that revenue-raising capacity.”

Kelly said she was “pretty devastated to not have got any of the funding we’d applied for”.

“We’ve applied for six different grant options in two years, and received none of them,” she said.

One of their applications was for a youth program aimed at encouraging girls into the sport, to develop grassroots pathways to ultimately strengthen women’s sport – for which they are funded.

“We’re hoping that perhaps there will be an opportunity for us to reapply in year two or three [of the grant program] – it all depends what their intentions are moving forward, and whether they’ll open up new funding,” she said.

“But hopefully the sports that missed out will have the opportunity to grow in future – I hope it’s not gone for good.”

She said even Baseball SA’s $50,000 sustainability grant for next year provided “no guarantee that it will be available every year”, saying there would be a new application process in which “we’ll need to tick even more boxes”.

“If that gets taken away, we’ll have to start cutting staff, cutting programs… or increasing fees [because] we just won’t have the funding available or capacity or resources to grow the sport,” she said.

In his letter, Mortensen said Australian sport was a “two-speed economy”, with “those that are sustainable and those that are not… those that have vast income sources from television and those that do not”.

Mortensen says the ‘Game On’ review is the “root cause” of his organisation’s issues, having identified the need to buy equipment, pay fees and use a facility as major barriers to participation in sport in SA.

“Translation: the barriers to physical activity participation are the structure of sport itself – so to align with the goals set forth in the new funding parameters of the department, State Sporting Organisations must propose new projects (ie not core business) that are free or low cost, require little or no equipment [and] can be done at a freely accessible venue anywhere across the state,” he writes.

“What’s glaring is that none of this aligns with the constitutional obligations or members expectations of each State Sporting Organisation… it fundamentally diverges away from the core purposes of each State Sporting Organisation in South Australia.”

InDaily has sought a response from Wingard.

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