Public paying twice for BBC Sports Personality of the Year
THE decision to give £240,000 of public money to the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year event has been described as a "tax double whammy" by the deputy chairman of Stormont's spending watchdog.
Next weekend's £45-a-ticket event at Belfast's SSE Arena is being backed with cash from Belfast City Council and Tourism NI.
But questions have been asked about why a televised awards ceremony run by an organisation that receives £3.7 billion a year through a mandatory licence fee needs additional public funds.
Up to 7,5000 people are expected to attend the December 20 event, with ticket sales set to generate in excess of £250,000.
Belfast City Council has pledged £140,000 of ratepayers' money to the BBC's annual awards ceremony, while The Irish News can reveal that Tourism NI is providing £99,000. Each of the public bodies is receiving 100 tickets each from the promoter.
Tourism NI said its funding was for sponsorship of a ceremony that was viewed last year by an audience of 9 million and would build on the profile of previous events which it had helped fund, including the MTV awards and the Giro d’Italia.
But East Derry MLA John Dallat, the deputy chairman of the assembly's Public Accounts Committee, said the Northern Ireland public was paying twice to stage the Sports Personality of the Year.
"It beggars belief that an event staged by a corporation which is already handsomely funded from the public purse requires further money from other public bodies – it's nothing but a tax double whammy," Mr Dallat said.
"I would like Tourism NI to tell us what we are getting for nearly £100,000 of so-called sponsorship, given that the BBC does not allow advertising."
The Sports Personality of the Year awards have already been mired in controversy over the inclusion of boxer Tyson Fury, who has made a series of sexist and homophobic remarks.
A BBC spokeswoman said the funding from Tourism NI and Belfast City Council was "very important in allowing us to meet extra costs in staging the event in Belfast."
The BBC Trust added in a statement: "In December 2014, the trust agreed to the executive’s request to allow Sports Personality of the Year in 2015 to accept non-commercial sponsorship for staging the event.
"The change was agreed for one year only in order to allow one of the BBC’s most high profile live events to be hosted in Northern Ireland and is subject to the BBC’s editorial guidelines [for on-air event sponsorship]."