Smith: Why should the big sports get funding?

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2013
Tim Mikkelson
Reuters
IN THE MONEY: The New Zealand Sevens programmes will benefit from $2.1 million in High Performance Sport New Zealand funding for each of the next three years.

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OPINION: Sorry to sound like a cross between Scrooge and the Grinch Who Stole Christmas but why are cricket and sevens rugby still benefiting from High Performance Sport New Zealand's largesse?

The Government agency doled out its annual grants this week and no-one could begrudge the bulk of beneficiaries.

But has HPSNZ lost sight of the fundamental guiding principle for taxpayer-funded assistance - helping those who need it.

Michael Joseph Savage's first Labour government established the welfare state in depression-torn New Zealand in the mid-1930s. The aim was to give beneficiaries a hand-up until they could get back on their own two feet and be self-supporting.

If that principle is applied to the sporting sector, then aren't rugby and cricket self-supporting now?

The New Zealand Rugby Union had a $106 million turnover in the 2012 financial year and recorded a $3.2m surplus. It had $51.9m in cash reserves.

Yet the New Zealand taxpayer still has to subsidise the men's and women's rugby sevens teams campaigns to the tune of $2.1m for each of the next three years.

How is this so? Rugby derives significant revenue from broadcasting deals, which include coverage of the world sevens circuit. Shouldn't the sevens' campaigns be funded from its own coffers?

It's almost as if HPSNZ is treating rugby sevens as a standalone, distinctly different sport.

New Zealand Cricket is a $45m business. It only posted a $150,000 surplus in 2012-13 but NZC has an eight-year multimillion dollar media rights deal for the televising of domestic cricket in New Zealand. The financial figures weren't revealed when the contract was inked last year, but NZC's previous five-year deal with the Sony Entertainment Corporation was worth $65m.

They also get a slice of the much bigger TV rights pie for international events like World Cup, Champions Trophy and Twenty20 tournaments. The current International Cricket Council TV rights deal, which expires in 2015, is worth US$1 billion (NZ$1.22b).

Top international cricketers, including a select few Kiwis, have earned $1m-plus per season for playing in the short-season Indian Premier League.

Cricket, clearly, isn't a sport on the bones of its backside. So why is HPSNZ proudly trumpeting it's investing $1m of your money over two years into "New Zealand Cricket's campaign to win the 2015 Cricket World Cup"?

Good luck to Brendon McCullum and his Black Caps. We'd all love them to win the World Cup too. But New Zealand Cricket stands to reap a generous reward from the televising of the tournament. Should they really expect extra support?

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Credit where it's due. Stand-out sports like rowing and yachting wouldn't be where they are today - at the top of the world - without HPSNZ support. Their national and international bodies aren't as underpinned by global TV rights revenue.

Government grants, through the Performance Enhancement Grants (Pegs) system, have helped stars like Mahe Drysdale and his rowing buddies, swimming ace Lauren Boyle and Paralympics multi-medallist Sophie Pascoe, fulfill their potential and sustain their success.

HPSNZ will pay out $87 million to elite athletes through to 2016 by way of Pegs grants, Prime Minister's Scholarships, athlete performance support and technology aid. That's a lot of loot, but those athletes deserve it.

For years now HPSNZ have had a policy of supporting proven winners based on performance. It's difficult to argue with that.

But they'll be putting $2.6m a year into two professional sports with significant independent revenue streams.

How does that look to battlers from codes like women's softball, judo, wrestling, badminton etc, who pay out of their own pockets for the privilege of representing their country or scrabble for gaming fund morsels.

I'd rather see HPSNZ take a punt and back some sports struggling to rise up the rankings. Or give that $2.6m back to the Government to direct to community sport or to help the 25 per cent of Kiwi kids living in poverty.

Merry Christmas.

- The Press

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