A Hunter soccer club that applied for funding to turn its home ground into "Newcastle Football Stadium" has been revealed as one of the losers in the fallout of the so-called sports rorts saga plaguing the federal government.
Newcastle Olympic Football Club - formerly known as Hamilton Olympic FC - applied for $500,000 as part of the Commonwealth's Community Sport Infrastructure grants scheme, but was knocked back early last year.
The club wanted to combine the money with other grants and $200,000 it had already raised to build a new grandstand and improve facilities at Darling Street Oval, so it could better cater for a growing membership base of female players and attract more events to the Hamilton South ground.
Newcastle Olympic secretary Con Gounis said the club assumed it had been beaten to funding by more worthy projects when news of the rejection first came through.
But he said the club had since learned its application scored 76 - two percentage points above the benchmark that the Auditor-General's report recently found was the cut-off score for funding under Sport Australia's merit system.
Mr Gounis, who has been secretary since 1982, said volunteers put 50 to 60 hours into the application over almost three months, including rallying letters of support and collecting quotes for work.
"We just thought we had a pretty good chance of receiving the grant," he said.
"To find out you've missed out because of other external circumstances than on the submission you've provided, that is very disappointing for a club that's worked very hard.
"We just wanted a level playing field - that's all we wanted. It doesn't look like that's happened.
"You just expect that at the start it's a race and everyone's equal and then it'll be decided fairly and equitably. It does put a big dampener on it, but we'll still keep trying."
Under the scheme, Sport Australia assessed applications and made recommendations to the then-Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie, whose office decided where funding should be allocated.
The Auditor-General's report found that Senator McKenzie's office ran its own assessment "in parallel" and "drew upon considerations other than those identified in the program guidelines, such as the location of projects" in order to award grants.
The Morrison Government has been under fire recently amid accusations of pork barreling, with projects in marginal or important seats awarded money despite not fulfilling official grant criteria.
Senator McKenzie has since been replaced as Sports Minister by Richard Colbeck.
The Newcastle Herald approached Senator Colbeck's office for comment on Newcastle Olympic's application on Thursday, but did not receive a response.
The Auditor-General's report released last month found that 61 per cent of the approved projects scored below the 74 per cent benchmark.
Among the $1.2 million worth of works planned to turn Darling Street Oval into a "boutique stadium", the club wants to demolish the three-decade-old grandstand and part of the amenities block and build new facilities, re-position the playing field, construct tiered seating and a new boundary fence and upgrade the car park.
The club has lodged a submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Administration of Sports Grants.
In the submission, it calls for the committee to recommend that another round of grants be handed out to organisations that scored over the benchmark but did not receive money.
Labor Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon said Newcastle Olympic's application "did tick so many of the boxes".
She said the club had been "cheated" out of the money.
"They were entirely eligible, they had a proposal that absolutely fit the criteria and the requirements of this grant - it would have helped increased female participation in football ... yet the changing facilities and the facilities for referees and players alike are woeful," Ms Claydon said.
"This is a gross betrayal of people's trust. It erodes public trust and confidence in the administration of public money through grants."
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