Bid to assist athletes to train fulltime

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 12/09/2012
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It wouldn't have mattered whether swimming star Sophie Pascoe had won one gold medal or six at the London Paralympics, her performance grant remains the same - $40,000.

But Paralympics New Zealand will consider revising the financial reward system for athletes as part of a full post-London debrief in the coming months.

Pascoe won three golds and three silvers at the Games, but the Christchurch 19-year-old's government-funded performance enhancement grant (PEG) is capped at $40,000, which is the payout for one gold medal.

That is the same figure that New Zealand's other gold medallists, Wellington swimmer Mary Fisher (one gold, two silvers, one bronze), Northland swimmer Cameron Leslie (one gold), and Southland cyclists Phillipa Gray and Laura Thompson (one gold, one silver and one bronze) will get this year.

It's simply the system that has been adopted by PNZ, which gets a bulk payout for PEGs of $400,000 a year by government agency High Performance Sport New Zealand and then divvies out the funds to the athletes, based on performances.

"It's capped at $40,000 per athlete but we'll be looking at that as part of our review process, and how we might be able to structure that differently moving forward," PNZ chief executive Fiona Allan said from London.

The governing body does have some discretion. If some of the $400,000 is left over after payouts to top Paralympic performers, PNZ can decide to increase some of the individual sums, based on the level of performance.

However, PEGs aren't enough, on their own, for New Zealand's top Paralympians to become fulltime athletes, the commitment that will soon be required as the Paralympics become more competitive, as evidenced by the whopping amount of world records in London.

But PNZ is also determined to help athletes gain corporate sponsorship to help fill the financial gaps.

Pascoe, who has now won 10 Paralympic medals and, with six in London, was the 12th most successful athlete in the world, is a prime example of what PNZ wants others to achieve.

She has attracted enough corporate sponsorship that, along with PNZ funding, she is able to be a professional athlete.

"Some of our athletes do have sponsors, but a high percentage of them don't and they have to work fulltime as well, so that impacts on their ability to perform," Allan said.

"It's our desire that athletes have the ability to train fulltime to keep delivering results, as the Games get more and more competitive."

As for future funding, PNZ, like the Olympic sports, will present its plan to HPSNZ in November ahead of the funding allocation in December.

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Allan is hopeful for more than the $5.54 million PNZ received in the last four-year cycle but competition will be intense. Eight individual Olympic sports received more than that figure last time around.

Part of PNZ's argument for HPSNZ will be the success of its targeted swimming and cycling programmes, the two sports yielding 16 of the 17 medals.

And things are looking bright for Rio; a roadshow during the past month has unearthed a further 17 swimmers who have been identified as 2016 Paralympic Games contenders.

HPSNZ chief executive Alex Baumann described the 17 medals at London as "quite positive" - he was excited by swimming and cycling but concerned by sailing and equestrian's sub-par results - though he said it was too early to say if this would lead to a funding boost.

"There was quite a bit of success at the Olympics, as well, and I'm really dealing with the same funding next year. That's the challenge we'll have moving forward, as well as accounting for our non-Olympic sports," he said.

"Historical results play a part, but what I want to see is the medal potential, key young athletes that they have and potential to get medals in the future."

The focus for Paralympics was more on gold medals than just medals.

"That's just the reality in terms of the number of medals available at the Paralympics, compared with the Olympics."

HPSNZ money provides about 70 per cent of PNZ's total funding. All of this money goes to PNZ's high-performance programme.

The other 30 per cent, consisting of corporate sponsorship, gaming trust investment and donations from the public, goes on organisational expenditure.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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