Port Fairy Tennis Club has been forced to give back a $35,000 grant to Tennis Australia after missing out on a federal sports allocation despite being rated one of the most worthy clubs in Australia.
Club secretary Alison Zehir said she didn't realise the club was so highly rated in the Sports Australia grants until contacted by media on Wednesday after details of the grants rorting was made public.
"We knew we had put in a good application and we were happy with our work," she said.
The ABC obtained a spreadsheet which detailed the rating Sport Australia gave clubs that applied for federal community sports funding.
It showed 94 of 223 projects successful failed to meet the threshold set by Sport Australia.
Emails sent by Sport Australia executives to Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie's office raised concerns about political interference in March last year, just weeks before PM Scott Morrison called the federal election.
The Port Fairy club had applied for a $50,000 grant to go towards a three-pronged development involving lighting, four junior player courts and fencing.
"We also got funding from Tennis Australia and lots of other philanthropic organisations, but the federal sports grant funding would have filled in all the gaps," Mrs Zehir said.
"When we were not successful we were not able to go ahead and had to give the Tennis Australia money back.
"We couldn't do what we wanted in one hit and had to break it down into three projects.
"It was all very disappointing."
The club re-started in 2014 after being in recess for about a dozen years.
It currently has about 400 members.
Mrs Zehir said four of the club's five courts had been resurfaced and the fifth court was to include four junior, smaller courts for young players to develop their skills.
"We've done very well in the past few years building up the club and been extremely well supported by Tennis Australia, Moyne Shire and the philanthropic and other organisations like Pacific Hydro," she said.
"What's happened with the federal sports grants is unfair and disappointing.
"In Australia we expect things to be judged on merit and need. We expect what's been alleged to happen in other countries but not in Australia."
Mrs Zehir said the federal grant would have allowed the club to develop in line with its strategic plan set out five years ago.
"It would have been great to get all of the planned works done simultaneously," she said.
"The club had worked hard to secure contributions from other project partners, including major funding from Tennis Australia to complete the entire project but this money had to be relinquished as we did not receive the federal sports grant funding.
"We were lucky that we could retain some funding from local philanthropic organisations so we are able to proceed with part of the works."
The secretary said the club would re-apply to funding bodies to try and proceed with the remaining projects.
"It means the planned junior courts are in limbo until funding is secured," she said.
"We currently have a strong junior program with over 50 kids participating over the summer holidays and we have 50-plus local kids enrolled in classes starting next week.
"Our junior players have had some great opportunities at the Australian Open, like playing on the AO courts, tossing a coin for a match on Rod Laver Arena and playing in a matchplay competition this Sunday.
"The interest in tennis is very high in Port Fairy. We would love to see the next Ash Barty come from our club."
Projects in Corangamite and Colac Otway shires were also highly rated but overlooked for funding.
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