ERR unravels the tale of the €100,000 Nõmme sports club funding that wasn't

Artist's rendition of the planned sports center at Tähetorni 50.
Artist's rendition of the planned sports center at Tähetorni 50. Source: SA Scult / KAOS Arhitektid OÜ

Parties to a process which saw €100,000 earmarked for a proposed sports and health club in Tallinn are scratching their heads as to how this happened, given that this was done in the context of funding rounds aimed at supporting projects in Estonia's regions, rather than in the capital.

The preceding Reform-Isamaa-SDE administration had granted the Social Democrats (SDE) a separate fund for regional investments, separate from the so-called "protection money" (Katuseraha, literally "roof money") scheme which sees all elected parties eligible for funding for regional projects of their choice.

The "protection money" rounds form a part of the state budget process, which runs through autumn and is in fact a way of moving that process along (ie. all parties get a sweetener as a quid pro quo for voting in favor of the state budget for the following year).

In any event, the €100,000 has not reached the project in any case, leaving the entrepreneur driving it, Ott Pärna, and the foundation he heads – SA Scult – needing to find other sources.

The following is thus essentially a post mortem of what happened.

Project of a sports entrepreneur

Pärna told ERR's radio news that: "I didn't know until the last minute whether anyone would opt to support the project or not."

"I read about it in the media, in the same way as you would do. I don't know whatsoever what anyone decides, where, and whose decision it is to make," Pärna said, in relation to the process of finding the funds for the sports club, to be built in the Nõmme district of Tallinn."

Ott Pärna Source: ERR

"I can, when it is viable to write a statement, I will write that statement, and see what then happens," he went on.

SDE leader and interior minister Lauri Läänemets stated of the saga that: "SA Scult is unique and important as it involves volunteers in organizing sporting activity, while as a movement, it has been quite effective and perspicacious."

Noone seems to know how Tallinn project ended up on list of regional objects

However, Pärna, who has in the past run as an SDE candidate, denied having discussed his project with Läänemets.

In short, how the planned sports club in Tallinn arrived on a list of regional priorities from one of the elected political parties remains a mystery, for now.

Pärna suggested that at least €1.6 million would be needed for the project's realization. "If you want to start building a greenhouse, you have to start from laying the first stone. You will ultimately complete that greenhouse," he said.

Pärna added he does not not fully understand how the state comes to its decisions, adding that funding processes seem to be carried out more transparently in some cases, than in others.

Sport falls under Ministry of Culture's remit

As to why the sports club ended up on a list of regional investments, then-culture minister Piret Hartman told ERR that this needs discussion with the relevant party chairs, adding that while the required political will, money and a statement, were all ready by January this year, this did not make the decision a fait accompli.

Multiple written correspondence ensued between Ott Pärna and various personnel at the ministry, Hartman added.

Sport in Estonia falls under the culture ministry's remit.

Minister of Culture Piret Hartman (SDE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Pärna for his part says he answered the questions put to him by the ministry; the latter said it was unable to find the relevant e-correspondence, citing the deletion of the ex-minister's email inbox and that of her advisor, after leaving office, in April.

Sport must in any case be supported in Tallinn as well as in provincial Estonia, Hartman argued, adding that the the Nõmme project has other advantages, in her opinion.

Project would cost around €2 million

One of these advantages was involving the private sector in sports projects; the Nõmme center would cost close to €2 million to complete, she said, ie. the €100,000 only made up around 5 percent of the required total.

In any case, the minister stood by the Pärna's Scult foundation, citing how it brought together volunteers and organizers of sports events, prior to the Covid pandemic, while a platform connecting sports trainers with trainees is under development.

Pärna stated that Scult is a portmanteau of the English words sport and culture, though, rather oddly, could also derive from the term "cult", as in a sect.

SDE's secretary general at the time, Eduard Odinets, told ERR that he was unable to discuss government-level "protection money," adding he could only do so in the case of that allocated by Riigikogu party groups.

Pärna applied for funding via ministry website

A culture ministry committee on urgent requests also spoke fondly of the Nõmme project (link in Estonian).

In September last year, Pärna had written to all elected Riigikogu parties, about his vision, but this drew no favorable response, he says.

Then, in March this year, the Ministry of Culture transferred over €100,000 to the foundation. 

For this money, the ministry wanted the existing, dilapidated building to be demolished, the drawing up of plans for the new building and the purchase of equipment.

Pärna said that the culture ministry's website carried a form via which state support for investments such as this one could be applied for.

"And that's what we actually did," he added.

This request was discussed by the urgent requests committee in February, and the contract was signed in March.

Would be developed on site of dilapidated building

The health and wellness club would be located at the Tähetorn area, in Nõmme, south of central Tallinn.

There are only two such facilities already existing in the capital, and, Pärna said, there was no reason to expect more, on the initiative of either the state or the city of Tallinn.

The site, at the intersection of a cycle lane and health trail (Tähetorni 50), was settled on, followed by an extensive search.

The plot was then acquired by Scult.

The ensuing detailed plan had already been made ready last year (see cover image and picture below), and included a building with a wooden facade and with triple glazing.

Artist's rendition of the planned sports center at Tähetorni 50. Source: SA Scult / KAOS Arhitektid OÜ

Other facilities would have included a gym-cum-lecture hall, ski maintenance space, a cafe and office space for SA Scult.

Other coalition party members queried matter

The final decision was not made until this year, however.

While SDE ended up sponsoring the project from a political perspective, coalition partner MPs – SDE was in office with Reform and Isamaa at the time – raised their eyebrows on this.

Reform MP Maris Lauri questioned whether the correct competitive process had been undergone, while Aivar Kokk (Isamaa) also expressed criticism.

The upshot was the Nõmme project being left out of the state budget protection money component, along with a cultural center at Käina, on Hiiumaa, and a hobby school in Viljandi.

With the process becoming more complicated, it reached then-culture minister Hartman's desk, and then the urgent requests committee

For his own part, Pärna says he has faith that the project will move forward and that the necessary funding will be found, even as it might take several years – sources might include the EU.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

Source: ERR Radio News, interviewer Madis Hindre.

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