Funding fair play plea risks scoring own goal for Hawick

Yvonne Hogg, Harry Lewis, Leah Ainslie, Archie Middleton, and Isla Goodfellow at this year's Melrose Sevens.
Yvonne Hogg, Harry Lewis, Leah Ainslie, Archie Middleton, and Isla Goodfellow at this year's Melrose Sevens.

A plea for a level playing field for funding for the biggest sporting events in the Borders risks scoring an own goal as, if heeded, it could see Hawick Common Riding left thousands of pounds of pocket.

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer is calling for all the region’s rugby sevens tournaments to be treated equally after learning that Scottish Borders Council only provides direct funding for Melrose’s.

That appeal for equity could backfire, however, as if taken on board and also applied to the only other series of events on the Borders calendar bigger than its Kings of the Sevens tournament – its common ridings, festivals and civic weeks – his home-town’s common riding might well end up losing out.

Mr McAteer said: “I was contacted by a representative of Hawick Rugby Club who asked if it was true that Melrose Rugby Club were receiving substantial economic funding from Scottish Borders Council to support its annual sevens tournament.

“I believe it is true that only the Melrose club receives direct council support, and I find that quite incredible given the substantial level of sponsorship this particular tournament attracts from external commercial sources.

“The Borders sevens tournaments are very important events for the host towns and communities, and I believe they should be treated equitably, with public money being shared evenly.

“I fully accept that the Melrose event is a great sporting occasion and increases visitor numbers that significantly help the local community, and all I ask is for other towns to be treated exactly the same.”

The annual Melrose Sevens tournament, regularly attended by crowds of more than 12,000, received an £8,000 payout from the council this year to help promote the tournament and increase recycling.

That plea for fair play fails to take into account another funding inequity benefiting Hawick, however.

Although the Mansfield Park rugby club’s Borders Festival of Rugby event, as it was rebranded last year, receives no direct funding from the local authority, the town’s common riding picks up substantially more funding than its Melrose counterpart.

Last year, the Hawick event was given £9,300 by the council, £6,000 more than the £3,300 paid out to Melrose Festival.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Melrose Sevens is a hallmark event which receives a small amount of funding support from Scottish Borders Council’s economic development events budget due to the very significant impact it has on the local economy and the national and international attention the event and Scottish Borders receives, including live TV broadcast.

“In 2019, Melrose Sevens received £8,000 from the council towards a number of development opportunities, including increasing the number of spectators, increasing income from sponsorship, encouraging and developing local business support and piloting waste reduction opportunities, including around single-use plastics.

“The council provides a wide range of support to events, from financial grants to in-kind assistance.  

“These decisions are taken in line with its events strategy and action plan and take into account the events’ anticipated economic impact.”

A spokesperson for Melrose’s rugby club added: “Our commercial team has aspirations to develop Melrose Sevens to increase opportunities for not only us but to also strengthen the economic benefit to the Borders and, in a wider context, support and strengthen sevens rugby in the region.

“The team looked into partnerships, funding opportunities and commercial grants that we understand are readily available to all other organisations and sports clubs, providing key performance indicators are met.

“We are extremely grateful to all supportive organisations including Scottish Borders Council for positive contributions at all levels which help maintain and enhance our prestigious tournament.”