Cash cuts likely to hurt mainstream sports

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2012

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The future of New Zealand sport will be unveiled this week with the Crown facing a number of tough decisions, including around the funding of rugby, swimming and hockey.

It also remains to be seen whether the Government plans to support world-class athletes in non-traditional sports, including world champion motocross rider Levi Sherwood and top 10 surfer Paige Hareb.

On Tuesday, High Performance Sport New Zealand, headed by chief executive Alex Baumann, announces its elite sports funding plan for the next four years.

In the wake of an Olympic year where some sports seriously under-delivered, previously targeted organisations face major cuts. Swimming is one of those, with only Lauren Boyle hitting targets at London 2012.

However, Boyle's gold and bronze-winning performances at the world short course championships in Turkey over the last few days complicate HPSNZ's decision.

Swimming received $7.4 million in public funding over the last Olympic cycle - with only rowing, cycling and yachting getting more.

Its funding is widely tipped to be cut dramatically and the Sunday Star-Times has obtained Swimming New Zealand's draft high performance strategy to 2020 which anticipates the organisation being "reclassified as a Tier 2 target sport".

But that would leave big questions around how well Boyle can be supported - something double Olympic swimming champion Baumann is sure to be sympathetic to - posing HPSNZ with potential for a new concept of supporting individual athletes as opposed to supporting national governance structures.

Hockey is another intriguing case. While the women's team continues to impress under coach Mark Hager - who has taken them from 12th to third in the world rankings - the men's team is flagging badly.

Coach Shane McLeod made way for Colin Batch after a disastrous London 2012 campaign saw them finish ninth, having targeted the top four.

Things haven't got much better either, narrowly avoiding the wooden spoon at this month's Champions Trophy.

After the women's Black Sticks had their funding slashed after the 2008 Games in Beijing, where they lost every game, the Crown also faces a test of consistency where hockey is concerned.

Rugby Sevens' introduction to the Olympic programme poses HPSNZ with uncharted territory - and a potential power struggle with the New Zealand Rugby Union over the sport's governance and funding.

New Zealand's fast-rising profile in extreme and non-traditional sports also needs addressing.

While Olympic status has guaranteed many swimmers, track and field athletes and hockey players financial support, surfer Hareb has not been able to get government backing despite being ranked in the world top 10 for the last four years.

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Hareb has had to turn to public handouts in order to afford international competition.

A raft of similarly compelling cases can also be made for the likes of surfer Sarah Mason, who in 2010 beat world No 1 Stephanie Gilmore when she was just 15, newly crowned X-Fighters world champion Sherwood and freestyle skier and multiple X-Games medallist Jossi Wells.

Baumann has previously indicated he would like New Zealand to take a wider-embracing philosophy to non-traditional sports, but pointed to a limited pot of funding available.

The biggest winners are expected to be the likes of rowing, cycling, athletics and yachting which all had good Olympic campaigns.

Rowing and cycling were the top beneficiaries over the last four years, receiving $19.1m and $18.3m respectively.

- Sunday Star Times

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