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Local authority funding for sport – What must? What should? What can?
Without financial support from local authorities, sport in Germany could not exist at the current levels. Around 80% of sport financing comes from community budgets, amounting to around three billion EURO each year. This shows how important this funding is for sport, even though it is not yet compulsory - something which sports associations are emphatically demanding. Sport is laid down in many regional constitutions, in some cases even as a national objective, as in the Hessian constitution. But does this make funding compulsory? This is an object of contention and already a topic of discussion, but community funding of sport still remains voluntary. The problem is that when funds run short, sport sponsoring is one of the first funds to be cut so that community sport is often a victim of savings measures. It can be said that today, the financial situation of a community is mirrored in the state of public sports facilities. Management and administration of these facilities often have their hands tied, change is dependent on politicians. As the state only supports sport at a national level, the destiny of community sport lies with regional authorities. To date, support for community sport is not compulsory. Sport should be promoted but "must" not necessarily. This makes sport dependant on municipal funding and on the political and financial situation in the region. This makes reliable planning with public funding extremely difficult. Based on this, the battle of the sports associations continues, a solution, above all a uniform one, is not in sight.
What does support for community sport look like?
The only kind of compulsory municipal support is guaranteed for school sport. Many sports clubs can profit from this by being able to make use of sports halls and facilities in the afternoons and evenings. This is currently made difficult however, by the number of sports halls which are being used to house refugees. Due to a lack of other alternatives, communities are having to stop use of sports halls for their intended purpose even though this is at the cost of both club and school sport.
There are no uniform principles governing the shape of community sport support. Essentially, this often takes the form of building and maintaining public sports facilities. These are usually football pitches and athletic fields and tracks but may also include sports halls, bike tracks or basketball courts. Many communities also provide financial support for club-owned facilities. Not only providing facilities, but also the actual implementation of sporting activities can be financed. Purchase of new sports equipment, employment of trainer personnel, organisation of inclusive and integrative sports measures, insurance and liability coverage or training courses are all possible ways and means. Other possible ways of providing support are to make participation in championships and tournaments possible, funding of competitive sports, promotion and success bonuses and financing of club events e.g. by prize giving or awards for example.
Community sport support can have many facets causing prerequisites for athletes to differ from place to place or region to region. In some cases, these differences are enormous. In some cases it was necessary to implement a charge for use of the sports facilities in order to ensure funding for the sports infrastructure. This is a major intervention in the development possibilities for athletes and sports clubs. Most of the voluntarily organised clubs have themselves only very few funds at their disposal and additional costs are not feasible. Future-oriented development is generally not possible in these cases and for the communities themselves it cannot be more than an interim solution as when the clubs fold, part of the funding for the sports facilities are lost and the sport infrastructure system also collapses. In other places, sports facilities are built which are practically never or cannot be used – wrong investment of important funds. Communication between local politicians, administration and athletes – not only club members but also private persons – is very important in his context. Sensible sport development planning is generally the best way forward. If funds are available in a community budget for funding of sport, then they should be spent where they are needed. Apart from this, the basis for sustainable maintenance can also be created.
Possible alternatives for municipal sport funding
If sport funding is not possible in a financially optimal way, athletes and administrators should try to promote solidarity by establishing contact with and including politicians with the aim of achieving a sensible sporting infrastructure. In many areas clubs take over the management of public sports facilities and run them independently. From a community point of view this is often a very rational decision as not only can costs be saved, but club members treat the infrastructure with more care if they feel it "belongs" to them as opposed to public facilities. There is less vandalism and lower maintenance costs.
Another possibility is the Private Public Partnership system. Cooperation between public and private entities can also provide advantages for sport. Partnership opportunities often arise in connection with equipping and maintenance work of sports facilities where both groups have an interest. At first glance it may be difficult to identify mutual points of interest as one side is more socially and the other side more profit oriented. Special advantages can be gained when handling tenders and awarding construction contracts where bureaucratic outlay can be reduced and quality levels are often higher. Cost allocation and possible disadvantages should however be clarified beforehand; the partnership must be built on a sound basis and should not work at the expense of either side. It remains to be seen if PPP projects are really viable and if they will work in future.
Local authority funding is the most important financial support for sport infrastructure in Germany. Problems are often caused by the difficult financial situation in many communities. Sports clubs and athletes have not legal right to community funding but providing sensible support for sport should be a focus point for every community. The best solution to this kind of problem is usually found when good communication can be established between sports facilities users and local administrators. Both sides are interested in a good sporting infrastructure but both sides also have financial limits. Only in close cooperation can new approaches and solutions be found. This applies both for the distribution of existing means as well as to necessary saving measures. Cooperation with industry is also possible for both sides although any possible risks should be clarified beforehand.