Provincial funding for Red Deer pickleball draws online scorn

$40,000 grant unexpectedly becomes controversial

Pickleball clubs are not typically the target of outraged social media posts.

But Red Deer Pickleball Club has felt the brunt of online critics after recently accepting a $40,536 grant from local MLA Adriana LaGrange.

She tweeted a photo of herself presenting a giant cheque, along with a similar presentation of $60,000 for the Lending Cupboard Society of Alberta.

The two are among the 1,200 groups that receive money each year through the lottery-funded Community Grants Program.

Nearly 200 had commented on LaGrange’s pickleball tweet by Thursday.

The education minister was blasted as being “tone deaf” for posting it. A number of people criticized the government for giving pickleball money at the supposed expense of schools, Special Olympics and other sports.

The hashtag #KidsBeforePickleball and #IWantFreeMoneyToo, among others with a more politically negative tilt, have begun making the rounds.

A few social media critics took shots at seniors — pickleball’s most dedicated age group — and suggested it was a sport for the rich or United Conservative Party supporters.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has even weighed in, suggesting the funding is an example of confusing nice-to-haves with need-to-haves.

“The government’s finances are a mess and Albertans voted for this government to balance the books and to tackle the spending problem,” said Alberta director Franco Terrazzano when asked to elaborate on Thursday.

“So taxpayers are rightly going to put this government’s spending decisions under a microscope. It’s not surprising that there’s public backlash to the government spending money on pickleball.”

A spokesman for the pickleball club was not available on Thursday.

Red Deer City Coun. Ken Johnston is an occasional player, but has been a council champion of pickleballers and led the push to get more courts in the city.

Johnston has worked on enough city budgets and heard from residents who, at times, are upset where money was spent. He understands where the pickleball criticism is coming from, especially in hard economic times.

“People have every right to be sensitive around the whole matter of the fiscal condition of the province,” he said.

But if people considered the benefits of pickleball, which creates social outlets and the opportunity to engage in healthy activity for many residents, they might see the province’s investment differently, he said.

“To me, it’s the proverbial ounce of prevention for a pound of cure. We just can’t lose sight of these things.”

On top of those benefits, pickleball is an economic driver. A major tournament this past summer attracted hundreds of participants, and along with all those who came to watch, the event had a local economic impact that could be measured in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, he said.

“It’s all about the social benefits, and the economic benefits. I think if people saw it in that light, we would be a lot more calm.”

In a statement, the Department of Culture, Multiculturalism and the Status of Women, which oversees the Community Grants Program, says “its budget prioritizes front line and vital services. While doing so, we are also ensuring that sport, wellness, arts, culture and many other valuable services are funded.

“For all applications to the Community Grants Program, funding is based on the eligibility of the project and how it aligns with the program criteria outlined in the guidelines,” says the department, adding each application is reviewed and approved on a case-by-case basis.

LaGrange’s office was also reached for comment, but referred inquiries to Alberta Culture, Multiculturalism and the Status of Women.

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