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£5million fund makes first impact

Wales rightly claimed they had used this summer's netball Tests as a springboard to future success - but results were not the only thing that gave them an extra spring in their step.

After two defeats to South Africa, Wales won four games on the bounce - against Malawi, Trinidad and Tobago, and twice over Grenada - but they also found some lift-off from the playing surface.

Four of the matches were held at the Viola Arena - home of the Cardiff Devils ice hockey team - where a new portable wooden sprung floor was used for the first time.

Up came the ice - and down went the sprung floor so that the likes of Wales' deadly shooter Georgia Rowe could find her mark.

The floor is a series of interlocking panels over elastic clips, which gives the right level of flexibility and soft feel required for major netball matches.

Netball in Arena
Sporting Wales

It was purchased by Welsh Netball after help from Sport Wales in the form of a grant from the recently administered 'A Place For Sport Fund'.

Totalling £5m, the fund was money from Welsh Government given over to help sports in Wales improve and upgrade their facilities.

Brian Davies, director of elite performance at Sport Wales and co-ordinator of the fund, says: "The floor is vital because it allows top class netball to be played anywhere.

"It allows Welsh netball and the Dragons to take matches to places where there is no sprung floor. That gives them flexibility and a chance to promote the game."

The floor is stored at Cardiff Met, training base for Wales and also the Celtic Dragons, the country's only Superleague team.

But it will allow Wales to continue to play Tests at the bigger arenas and offers the possibility for the Dragons to expand from their current base at the Sport Wales National Centre.

The fund was handed over to Sport Wales just before Christmas of last year. It's a very welcome but modest amount of money in the grand scheme of sporting infrastructure, but Davies believes it's a symbolic recognition that upgrading our sporting facilities is vital for the future health of the nation.

"As welcome as it's been, this money is only scratching the surface. If we want to be strategic, we need a longer term commitment to capital investment," says Davies.

"If we get that, we can make good progress across Wales. There's a lot of demand."

"The floor is vital because it allows top class netball to be played anywhere."

As capital funding the money had to be spent within the current financial year. Sport Wales negotiated an agreement whereby £1m would be spent over the course of a few months, while the rest would be committed for spending before March 2020.

Cycling was one sport that benefitted immediately, with the construction of a new pump track for BMX riding at Maindy Stadium in Cardiff, where a young Geraint Thomas once started his own wheels rolling.

GLL (Greenwich Leisure Limited) received £15,000 from the fund which has allowed for the track surface to be renewed

Hugh Copping, Chairman of Cardiff BMX Racing Club, says: "The redevelopment of the pump track at Maindy will be a valuable asset to the community and will be key to helping riders gain the confidence and skills to ride on a full size race track.

"Within Wales, the popularity of BMX racing is growing fast, so facilities are much needed."

Other allocations from the fund have allowed rugby and football to install 3G pitches and hockey to be assisted towards their own artificial surfaces.

Athletics and cricket have also benefitted, while Welsh tennis is looking to use money from the fund to develop a booking system for local authority tennis courts that would unlock courts using similar software to that which make communal bike shares available in city centres.

Another £1m was set aside for public bids, rather just governing bodies. That attracted £15m worth of applications in just seven weeks - proof, if it were needed, of the demand throughout Wales to upgrade sporting facilities.

Gymnastics, bowls and cricket clubs featured heavily in that allocation as offers of cash were made to one third of applicants in 26 different sports and across the length and breadth of Wales (details of which will be announced shortly).

A final £1m has been earmarked for the upgrade of stock in local authority swimming pools.

All very welcome - and a pleasant surprise for Welsh sport at the back end of last year - but Davies knows it's only a few drops in the ocean compared to what will be needed over the next few years to bring sporting facilities throughout Wales up to scratch.

"This was a nice one-off Christmas present," he says. "But it would be nice to know what we're getting every Christmas for a few years.

"I'd like to think there are some receptive ears out there in the political field. Sport is so important to Wales in achieving all kinds of important societal objectives. It's been a very positive step from Welsh Government and it's great to see the impact on sport and beyond already."