The cost of glory

PRICELESS MOMENT: Nick Willis shows off his bronze medal from the 1500 metres, but now the moneymen are moving in to assess New Zealand's effort in Beijing.
PRICELESS MOMENT: Nick Willis shows off his bronze medal from the 1500 metres, but now the moneymen are moving in to assess New Zealand's effort in Beijing.

The athletes have had their turn; now it's the turn of the moneymen to assess New Zealand's effort in Beijing.

Behind the glory and the tears there's another side to the Olympics.

It's the hard-headed world of the analysts and the bean counters who will calculate how much each medal cost and whether governments could get better returns by redirecting investment to other sports.

It's a world New Zealand's sports administrators will nervously step into over the next few weeks as sports funding body Sparc begins assessing the performance of our Olympic team.

Sparc has put $60 to $70 million into Olympic preparation over the past four years, $51.5 million of it going to nine sports.

Some will enter the debriefing process confident they have a strong case for additional funding.

Athletics, with two medals - its best result since 1976 - has exceeded expectations.

The cycling team, which has already won two medals and could win another one or two on the BMX track, clearly has the potential to do even better at the London Olympics.

And rowing, while it did not meet its own expectations, still won three medals.

Other sports will enter the process with a degree of trepidation. Hockey has received almost $5 million from Sparc over the past four years but the men finished in the lower half of the table and the women are in the playoff for the wooden spoon today.

Yachting's sole medal - board sailor Tom Ashley's gold - cost $8 million. And swimming, which received $6.6 million from Sparc, won no medals.

Sparc boss Peter Miskimmin, who is in Beijing watching New Zealand's competitors, says he will not comment on the future funding of sports till after the review process has been completed, but there has always been the potential for funding to be adjusted as a result of Games performances.

However, overall he says Sparc is "incredibly excited and pleased for the athletes that have done well".

With nine medals won so far, Beijing is already New Zealand's most successful Olympics since the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

The results are better when viewed in context, he says.

New Zealand is competing against countries that are spending more and more money in pursuit of Olympic gold.

Great Britain, third on the medal table, has spent nearly $600 million on its team over the past four years.

Miskimmin says New Zealand will never be able to match those sums, but the results in Beijing confirm that Sparc's focus on developing world class programmes, is working.

However, he says more funding is required.

"If we don't put more money in we are going to go backwards because the rest of the world is putting more in. Even if we keep investing we are probably only going to be treading water."

Sparc would talk to the Government after it had completed its Olympic debrief.

Miskimmin, a former hockey international, did not want to comment in detail on the performance of individual sports but he did offer a few general comments about some sports.

Athletics: "They won two medals. That's right up with expectations."

Swimming: "Swimming had it tough ... but I am sure we are all incredibly proud of what Moss (Burmester) did in the Phelps race (in which he finished fourth). On a different day..."

The men's hockey team: "I think they have been a little bit unlucky. if they had been able to keep the Spaniards out for the last seven seconds (Spain scored with seconds to go to win 1-0), they could have gone right through.

I guess we are going to have to sit down with hockey and review how it went. I think it is a talented team and its results dos not reflect that talent."

Miskimmin said one of the things that was most apparent in Beijing was that the majority of New Zealand medals had been won by athletes who had been to previous Olympics.

The same had happened in Athens four years ago.

"That demonstrates you have to be in this environment to taste it, to know what it is like."

SPARC FUNDING - 2004-2008

Athletics 2 medals, $3,980,625
Cycling 2 medals, $9,535,167
Rowing 3 medals, $9,497,500
Swimming 0 medals, $6,615,250
Triathlon 1 medal, $4,327,000
Yachting 1 medal, $8,083,125
Equestrian 0 medals, $2,815,000
Hockey 0 medals, $4,945,000
Kayaking 0 medals, $1,751,874


Fairfax Media