Individual athletes win big in annual funding

Last updated 06:40 19/12/2012
Lydia Ko
GLOBAL STAR: Lydia Ko has been guaranteed $230,000 in public funding split over the next two years.

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Fundamental change hit New Zealand sport yesterday with the Crown embracing both athlete-specific and non-Olympic funding into its key investment document.

The latest four-year funding announcement for elite New Zealand sport has seen six individuals identified as public funding recipients beside big-player national organisations such as Olympic cornerstones Rowing New Zealand and Yachting New Zealand.

Teenage golfer Lydia Ko, the 15-year-old world No 1 amateur who this year became the youngest ever winner of a professional Tour event, has helped smash the mould in being guaranteed $230,000 in public funding split over the next two years.

Previously, Ko's development and demanding international travel schedule, which this year included making her way to two of 2012's four major championships, has been reliant on a trust fund operated by New Zealand Golf, the philanthropy of Sir David Levene and her parents' pockets.

Ko's coach, Guy Wilson, says the funding is vital for the youngster's development.

"The increased amount of golf Lydia has had to play overseas has accelerated her needs. It's all been privately funded, and that will still be required, but now the Government will make a contribution, which is great," Wilson said.

"Lydia has to travel so much to make sure she can continue to develop and play against the top 50 players in the world. Even just last year, her travel expenses would have been over $150,000."

The fact golf now clicks into the Olympic programme is also sure to have made an impact, reflected by all bar one of the remaining individual recipients also being in Olympic sports.

The only individual from a non-Olympic sport to receive funding is top surfer Paige Hareb - and while it's considerably less than Ko financially, Hareb's non-Olympic status means philosophically, it's far more significant.

Hareb has held a world top-10 ranking for the last four years, but has had to rely on public handouts and private backing to compete.

The $20,000 Hareb has been guaranteed next year will not cover all costs. But she said the news was a major breakthrough.

"It's awesome that High Performance Sport NZ have given me this opportunity.

"I'm pretty happy with what they've decided to give me and also, to be the only individual, non-Olympic athlete on the list. That's pretty special.

"There's no excuses now, I can work with my coach a lot of the next few months and won't have to spend so much time fundraising," Hareb said. "It's becoming more and more of a struggle financially to remain on the tour each year."

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HPSNZ chief executive Alex Baumann said he was pleased to be able to help proven, individual athletes. "It's important but we have to take these on a case by case basis," Baumann said.

"We had to allocate our priorities first and it's a challenge. We have to have a door open where medals or world titles can be achieved in 2016."

The other individuals benefitting are canoe slalom duo Luuka Jones and Mike Dawson who get a combined $135,000 for 2013, while boxer Alexis Pritchard and Taekwondo exponent Vaughan Scott will receive $90,000 and $17,000 respectively.

Rowing, yachting and cycling were identified as priority sports for government funding over the next four years.

But swimming, men's hockey and triathlon were downgraded and face an important year to prove they deserve more.

Off the back of team eventing bronze at London 2012, equestrian is the major mover, set to receive $7.6m to 2016 (compared with $3.2m between 2009-2012), while rowing will remain New Zealand's best-funded sport ($18.4m), followed by cycling ($15.6m) and yachting ($11.2m).

Athletics is up slightly less than $1m to $7.6m while Lisa Carrington's gold medal performance has seen canoeing rise almost $1.5m to $4.8m.

While they didn't win a medal, finishing fourth in London, the women's Black Sticks' funding has also increased over the next four years, boosted by over $2m to $5.2m.

Coach Mark Hager has transformed them from 12th in the world rankings to third since taking the reins four years ago.

The losers included swimming, downgraded from a specifically targeted Olympic sport to now being a "campaign based" sport.

In other words, in being guaranteed $1.4m for 2013 it has lost $250,000 and importance now goes on the world championships for long-term funding.

The result means top swimmer Lauren Boyle, who won gold and bronze from the world short course championships over the last week, has some security.

Men's hockey has been dealt a blow and will receive $800,000 next year following a poor Games.

Over the last four-year cycle the men's Black Sticks received $3.1m.

Triathlon also faces a fight back, down to $5.6m over the full Olympic cycle from $6.1m.

The investments reflect HPSNZ goals of 14 Olympic medals in 2016 and 16 or more in 2020. 

- Fairfax Media

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