Sports clubs were left disappointed after Sport NI returned £1m to Stormont, after failing to spend its full budget over two years.
Cathal Óg Mullan, treasurer of the Glenullin Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club, called it “inexcusable”.
Aidan Murphy, chairman of Armagh City Football Club, said up to 40 clubs could have benefited from the money.
“I’m sure there’s a sense of panic and dismay at a lot of clubs when they hear that £1m of their playing budget has been lost,” Murphy told the BBC’s Evening Extra programme.
“There are many areas where it could have been used.”
Speaking on the same programme, Mr Mullan said the repeated spending was “very disappointing”.
“Seeing that £1m of funding is missing to fill a hole in the Department for Communities is unforgivable to Sport NI,” he said.
However, Mr Murphy also said that the £1m of unused funds would have been given to another 40 clubs in the form of £25,000 grants.
“All sports clubs are chasing different amounts of money and, in most cases, it doesn’t work out,” he said.
“Even if £1m is spent on small things like balls, light bulbs, boxing club stuff – whatever – it would be better to put in a program that can make a difference quickly, rather than handing money back to any department. to the Community or the Exchequer.”
Sport NI is a government funded organization with a dual mission – to encourage people to take part in sport/fitness and to support elite athletes.
It is led by its Chief Executive Officer Richard Archibald, who told BBC Sport that the refund was “disappointing”.
He added that since the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a “change of emphasis and focus” in its long-standing sports programs and that within the change it “hasn’t been used as fully as we would have liked”.
Sport NI has also failed to meet almost half of its business targets, and is still working on arrears for the National Lottery’s accounts.
A spokesperson for the Department of Communities told BBC Sport: “As it is not possible to carry over breaks from one financial year to the next, the Sport NI £1m grant was used to address other departmental issues at the time.”
‘Ready’ building plans
Mr Mullan said the council needed to increase its revenue streams in order not to lose money in the future.
He said John Mitchel’s GAC Glenullin was very appreciative of the Sport NI grant they received recently and used the money to install disabled toilets and refurbish existing toilets in the club.
But he added that his club had recently secured planning permission for the construction of a new grass pitch, pitch and public track – none of which were deemed eligible for Sport NI funding.
“We are a country club – exercising on the streets is not safe in our community,” Mullan said.
He also explained that a walking path should be built around the tarmac and provided to the residents of the area “which would allow for safe exercise for the elderly and young” and to run events such as the ‘Couch to 5K’.
The GAA treasurer said his club was “ready” to start construction and sought advice from Sport NI to secure additional funding for the construction project.
“Sport NI was just saying: ‘No, you’re not going to get this money,'” Mr Mullan recalled.
“To hear they’re going to pay back £1m, it’s disappointing.
“And that it happened over two years. I mean, if you’ve got £500,000 in one year then you need to look at what you’re doing with your money and see if you need to expand what you’re doing.” willing to pay.
“But to let this go into the second year and return another $1m?”
He said if Sport NI was struggling to use its budget it should look at trying to support “projects bigger than $30,000 in the first place”.
Armagh City FC used its Building Better Sports Facilities grant to replace its central heating system with LED (light-emitting diode) lighting.
But Mr Murphy said his club were “initially turned down” the money in 2021 and were placed on a waiting list before his job was due 15 months later.
He added that many women want to join the team from the Women’s Euro 2022 tournament and there is a need for better facilities.