Ministry bankrolls football despite cutbacks

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 10:09 18/11/2012
Chris Wood
Photosport
FUNDED: Mfat paid $85,000 towards the All Whites' trip to China for a friendly football match.

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The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has confirmed it paid $85,000 towards the All Whites' trip to China for a friendly football match.

The decision to put taxpayers' money towards a sporting trip was slammed by former foreign affairs minister Winston Peters, who said he was "astonished" MFAT was dabbling in sport.

The $85,000 was part of a total spend of up to $300,000 by NZ Football. The funding included travel for a photographic agency and two staff from sponsor Nike, as well as travel for players and staff to Shanghai. NZ Football is not struggling for funds, having banked almost $10 million from the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

New Zealand First leader Peters says the funding is "astonishing for a portfolio in significant crisis" and said it was a serious conflict of interest for Minister of Sport Murray McCully, who is also minister of foreign affairs.

"It's a serious conflict, effectively it's appropriating money from one portfolio for another purpose," Peters said.

"I'm astonished by it. I don't know why Foreign Affairs has made so many massive cuts to be spending money on this purpose, it's in a significant state of crisis.

"My concern is where they got this money from and why they've spent it on this. Why hasn't it come through the minister of sport?"

Neither McCully nor Minister of Trade Tim Groser were available for questioning. Instead MFAT issued a statement by email, claiming the $85,000 funding was for "broadening relations with China".

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided $85,000 toward the recent All Whites visit to Shanghai. MFAT has supported a number of events to mark the 40th anniversary of New Zealand's diplomatic relations with China," MFAT said.

"The NZ government contribution recognises the benefits of the All Whites- China match in broadening our relationship with China and profiling NZ in the key Shanghai market.

"We have contestable outreach funding that can be used to support the ministry's public diplomacy activities - this can, on occasion, include sporting activities."

Peters said the 40th anniversary rationale was not good enough. "The 40-year thing doesn't cut any ice, because they were playing the game anyway."

The news follows an embarrassing miscommunication by NZ Football after All Whites players failed to show up for a meet-and-greet event with Kiwi expats in Shanghai the morning after the match.

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Players spent the previous night at exclusive nightclub "M1nt Bar" known for its shark tank and a world ranking of third in Dom Perignon sales. They said they did not know they were expected at the breakfast.

NZ Football chief executive Grant McKavanagh said it approached MFAT about the funding, and the breakfast event appearance was not a condition. Total costs for the trip were $240,000 to $300,000.

- Sunday Star Times

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