Monday, August 13, 2012

Should Funding be Frozen for High Performance Sport?

So the Olympics are over. This means more sleep for us all, but what are we now going to watch?—same old, same old, I suppose—Coronation Street, yawn. Even more than usual, the Kiwis have excelled, with its equal best-ever medal haul, ending up 16th on the medal table. If we adjust this to population, we came in 4th. While there were ups and downs with a couple of athletes not living up to expectations, most excelled.

In the news today is the headline “Olympic Heroes Face Cash Freeze.” Currently high performance sport receives $60m a year and this will be frozen for the next two years. At one level this is highly understandable as times are tough and the NZ government is flatlining most of its budget. Indeed some would say, $60m is far too much anyway. From a Christian social justice point of view, one can certainly argue that there is far more need out there than for high performance sport. It all makes perfect sense at one level.
On the other hand, I am not so sure. The Olympics and other high performance sport have a huge positive effect on Kiwis. It brings a great “feel good” factor as watch NZers excel on the international stage. We all feel a part of it as “we” win medals. In an expensive world, this is largely due to the money provided to help our athletes excel. Sport is a vital part of the NZers identity and sense of well-being, and money spent here, while seemingly disproportionate, reinforces our morale greatly. If we go to the next Olympics and do poorly, what will this decision then look like?

More importantly, we have massive health problems among young people, including obesity as they sit around on social media etc. Our NZ athletes are brilliant role models for young NZers many of whom are encouraged to get into sport as a result of watching their heroes. This activity inoculates against many of the health problems Kiws are facing. A focus on high level sport gets many out of the traps of alcohol and drugs. It reduces obesity. It becomes cheaper in the long term to spend the money on sport inspiring a fresh generation of active Kiwis than to spend it on the many health related health problems later. Even old guys like me try a little harder on the rowing machine after watching Mahe Drysdale and the others. This is all good staving off heart disease and more. We also see in our top athletes the most wonderful examples of good citizenship, sportsmanship and character. We see what it means to give it one’s all for a common goal.
While understandable, I am not sure this decision is the best for the country and may come back and bite us on the bottom. What do you think?

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