OPINION: Lydia Ko apparently feels uncomfortable about the debate swirling around her after New Zealand Golf applied for $208,000 in high performance funding in her name.
I'm not surprised Ko is embarrassed. The world No 4 didn't apply for the money and clearly doesn't need it. She is one of New Zealand's wealthiest sports stars.
Some of the statements being made to explain the funding application are ludicrous.
New Zealand Golf chief executive Dean Murphy said Ko would be self-sufficient "at some stage", but "currently that's not the case".
Sport New Zealand high performance chief Alex Baumann wrote to newspapers over the weekend, justifying a potential payout to Ko.
"We support athletes and teams from targeted sports who can win on the world's toughest sporting stages," he said.
"Lydia Ko meets our criteria and we'll continue to work with New Zealand Golf to increase her chances of winning a medal in Rio."
Baumann went on to explain that the application was lodged before Ko turned pro. But she turned pro last October, and the application hasn't been withdrawn, so such an excuse is nonsense.
Ko knows she doesn't need any financial support. That's why she's embarrassed. She declined nearly $1 million in prizemoney before she turned pro. It was obvious then money was never going to be a problem, and it hasn't been since.
She has made the cut in every tournament she has played as a pro and has already earned more than $300,000 in 2014, quite apart from sponsorship, advertising and appearance fees income that could spiral into many millions of dollars if she wants to chase it.
Ko is one of the glamour figures on the women's pro tour, used heavily in marketing tournaments. She has bought property in Florida and travels with her own entourage. She is a wealthy young woman. Good on her.
But for New Zealand Golf and Baumann to try to justify giving precious funding to her is stupid. There's an infatuation with Olympics sports that is unhealthy, too.
There are plenty of high achieving New Zealand sportsmen and women who really do need a financial leg up. They're the ones who should be targeted.
I'm uncomfortable with how much money the big earners are given by the high performance unit. Last year Ko was given $185,000. Val Adams, one of the superstars of world track and field, is still on the list, too.
It reminds me of the 1990s, when the Sports Foundation and the Hillary Commission seemed to want to give cash to the stars just so those organisations could rub shoulders with them and get spinoff publicity.
What's next? Steve Adams earns millions of dollars in the NBA. If New Zealand was to qualify for the Olympic men's basketball, as we did in 2000 and 2004, would Adams suddenly have money shovelled at him?
What if Sonny Bill Williams makes Gordon Tietjens' sevens squad for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics? Does he suddenly become a beneficiary of Baumann's largesse?
It's time for some sanity.
We all want our sports stars to have every chance of succeeding on the big stage. But let's use the limited funds available wisely and give it to the neediest competitors, not the most famous.
- Waikato Times
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