How can clubs plug cash hole before normality returns?

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The current crisis was in its infancy when Killorglin Golf Club closed its doors for the last time.

“I suspect we won’t be the last, like a lot of business,” said the secretary Aidan Spillane.

That was the back end of March. The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had announced the closure of all public places, including schools, just a fortnight before. Further “unprecedented” steps and an extension on closures until April 19 were revealed by the Fine Gael leader just a day before.

Over a month has passed since and clubs up and down the island are still wrestling with the financial nightmare that is a mixture of closed premises, zero income and no word on when either of those two facts can even begin to change.

It’s not just golf clubs. There are over seventy National Governing Bodies (NGBs) in Ireland but the likes of golf, tennis and swimming are different in that the units dotted around the country are operated as individuals by private individuals or groups.

Gymnastics, too.

Some boast memberships of no more than a few dozen. Others have 2,000 names on their books and employ up to 40 people. Turnovers vary from €50,000 to €1m-plus but size isn’t the determining factor in how they absorbing this inactivity.

Clubs that run two terms — pre-Christmas and post — should have a healthy enough cash flow that can see them through to the summer. Those who split their second ‘term’ into two on either side of Easter have much more to worry about.

Gymnastics Ireland has tried to get that message out to the sport’s community.

“Our Support Our Clubs campaign has two main asks: if people are in a position to continue to pay term fees to support their club to please do it,” said CEO Ciaran Gallagher. “Also, if anyone can help the clubs with donations then that would be very helpful.

“If September can be a return to normal, and if the time between now and September can be a phased time back to a certain scenario or two, then we can come up with some protocols with the clubs as to how they can operate and how they can start to get cash flow back in.”

When and how that happens is the million euro question.

So much of the debate about sport and when it might return leans instinctively on those we see on the TV most of the time but football, Gaelic games and rugby are far from representative in their size and their finances and the manner in which they are played.

Contact sports will be at the back of the queue in any return to normality but gymnastics is among those where there is more of a grey area and Gallagher believes some manner of traffic light system might help in grading who can do what and when.

The same approach could be used for the economy and society at large.

“There are elements of our sport that are contacts disciplines so they would be a problem but, if you are talking other disciplines, they could continue to train,” says Gallagher. “When you just take it down to the participation base, which is the business model it is founded on, those guys are just taking part in the fun gymnastics. That can operate at a more spread out and a more distanced environment.

“We believe, from everything I have been told, it is going to come down to the square metre, two metres around an individual. If Gymnastics Ireland was given such-and-such a criteria in such-and-such an environment, you have to limit the amount of people in an indoor facility to X and you must observe this distancing protocol and body contact protocols, cleaning protocols for equipment, I am confident that we can map that out.”

Gallagher was just a handful of months into his current role when the last financial crisis struck and accelerated his plans to move the sport here towards the current commercial model which has long been considered best practice in the UK, US, Canada and elsewhere.

He sees wider differences too between now and then, not least an Irish sports sector which has become more sure of itself in terms of governance and expertise and one bolstered by the improvement in facilities and more diversified income streams.

“I think we have a really thriving sector here now. My previous experience would have been through the British system as a gymnast and then I worked in events and facility development in that system as well.

“When I first started to work in Irish gymnastics I thought things were a bit behind. Now I feel that this sector is on a par with anything in the world. The setups and work Sport Ireland has done over the years and the Campus and everything that represents is outstanding.

“Rhys McClenagahan is obviously our top gymnast and the level of supports he gets is equal to anything out there anywhere else in the world. I couldn’t have said that ten years ago.”

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