We missed out on a sports grants for our club. Now we know how unethical the process has been | Martin Smith | Opinion

January and February can be a very busy time as community sports clubs plan to register their players, and recruit coaches and referees. It’s also a great time for ground improvements works, so everything is ready for the start of the season. That is, if a club has funds for ground improvements.

At Coledale Waves Soccer Club, we are yet again scrambling to deal with the coming season – with no floodlights, no dedicated change rooms for our male and female players, no adequate storage facilities for our gear, no adequate drainage for the pitch, and a field which is punctuated by a cricket pitch, and ruts on a rock hard surface. We are a growing club, particularly in the representation of women. We have around 600 players, with seven senior teams, nowhere for women to change, and nowhere for anyone to train, once the sun goes down.

I coach the over 18’s men’s teams – 38 young men, eager to train and play a decent level of competitive soccer. And where do we train? Three suburbs away at a high school oval with poor lighting and multiple rabbit holes (one of which hobbled my top recruit last season, so he missed the first six weeks of the season).

One of the women’s teams train down at the local beach on a patch of dirty grass about 20 by 10 metres.

Last season the all ages men’s team entered the FFA Cup (for a bit of fun). We hosted Budgewoi at St James Oval, our home ground, with 400 spectators roaring us on to victory from the hill. The next two rounds, despite being the home team, we had to play at a field far away from our fans. The reason? Our field failed reasonable playing standards.

In the last two to three years the club has pulled together a working group of volunteers to focus on improvements to our field and infrastructure. This is after about 12 years of no success in gaining any funding from any level of government. The current working group has submitted eight funding proposals in the last 18 months.

The Sport Australia community sport infrastructure grant was our focus in 2017 and 2018 – approximately 50 hours of committee meetings and informal conversations led to a well conceived and structured proposal being drafted. Every aspect of the selection criteria was addressed. The grant writing took about 150 hours of work. We sought funds to revitalise the field (with drainage, solar-fed irrigation from new water storage tanks, new topsoil and levelling of the playing surface) along with solar powered flood lighting, and a storage shed and improvement to the amenities block, with two dedicated change rooms. All up – just under $500,000.

We were very proud of our submission. We knew it would be competitive but were confident that we met, and bettered, the assessment criteria. The funds would be used from January to March 2020 for all the works to occur.

In April, we were informed Coledale Waves had missed out in rounds 1, 2 and 3. No detailed feedback – just a short email: “competitive process, lots of worthy submissions, and thanks for your interest”.

In November the media contacted the club to alert us to some strange practices in allocating the funding. I was interviewed by various arms of ABC News. At the time we had no knowledge of just how questionable and (to my mind) reprehensible and unethical the whole process has been.

The auditor general’s report clearly identifies just how dodgy the process was. Every day I read of more examples of how major funds have been allocated to clubs that weren’t on the independent assessment panel’s list of worthy grant recipients. I would very much like to see how our club scored in relation to the Sport Australia independent assessment panel, and more importantly, how the clubs recommended and funded by Nationals minister Bridget McKenzie scored.

As volunteers, we’re disappointed we missed out on the funding, but the realisation that our government would show so little integrity and allocate tax payer funds for their own political gain is totally demoralising.

Meanwhile, our club volunteers are planning where teams can train when the sun goes down, and whether we could we get a shipping container delivered to our field to repurpose the storage sheds as a change room.

As a community and a club we focus on inclusivity and social camaraderie and just how great it is that our boys and girls, and men and women can engage in this fun and healthy activity. That’s what keeps us going.

Martin Smith has been a volunteer at Coledale Waves for 18 years, as coach of junior and all age teams, as a fundraiser and member of the field revitalisation working group

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