OPINION: Considering its low headcount, New Zealand has punched well above its weight at the London Olympics - even if our boxers, and indeed almost all of those who compete while standing up, generally failed to deliver.
New Zealand's medal haul of 13, including six golds, made it a stellar performer on a per capita basis. The exploits of our rowers, in particular, engendered sufficient national pride to go some way towards justifying the huge amounts spent each year in preparing for the Games.
However, Sports Minister Murray McCully got it right in defending the amount of government funding available for elite sport. He confirmed that funding to Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand will be frozen for the next two years, but declared that focusing on this was "unduly negative".
Mr McCully points out that the Government increased the budget for the two organisations from $40 million to $60m a year in 2010. He adds that if budgetary pressures ease, the spendup could increase from 2014. Criticism of this level of spending seems churlish. If the economy remains sluggish and the decision is made in 2014 to stick with $60m a year, that would still mean sport will have received $240m between now and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Rather a lot could be done with the loot in all manner of areas.
Not all of this money will be spent on grooming elite athletes for Rio, and it would be mischievous and misleading to get out the calculator and suggest that at that level of funding, New Zealand's 13 medals cost around $18.5m each across a four-year Olympic Games cycle. The funding does, however, represent a solid contribution by the Government to promote sport. The payback comes not only in the inevitable national warm-fuzzies whenever Kiwis excel on the international stage, but also in the filter-down aspect.
Olympic medals produce increased interest in the sport concerned. In an increasingly sedentary world, the more the likes of rower Mahe Drysdale, canoeing's Lisa Carrington, sailors Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie or BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker can inspire us to get off the sofa the healthier our community will be. As satisfying as watching elite Kiwi athletes do well can be, the most valuable aspect of sport is individual participation, at any level.
The key now, more than ever, is for those responsible for allocating the riches to be painstakingly objective when the who-gets-what decisions are made. On results from London, swimming was the New Zealand team's most expensive flop and with one notable exception, the athletics lineup also failed to fire. All praise to the drug testing programme for delivering Val Adams her belated gold medal overnight. Canoeing and cycling had some success, the hockey women exceeded expectations early before disappointing at the business end and only the rowing team excelled.
The difficulty for those sports which did not deliver is that the consequential funding cuts will make it harder for their athletes to secure the international competition they will need to do well in Rio. Some traditional sports could find themselves on a slippery slope as "new" events find favour at their expense.
- © Fairfax NZ News