High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) provides around $34m p.a. to targeted sports (30+), the New Zealand Olympics Committee (NZOC) and New Zealand Paralympics, in addition to $21m to support specific athletes, coaches and officials. Altogether the funding is $55m p.a.
The opening of HPSNZ current strategic plan is a quote from the Minister of Sport – “When we see New Zealanders competing and winning on the world stage it unites us as a nation, and inspires youngsters to get out and participate in sport”.
Followed by the first paragraph of the introduction – “The government invests in high performance sport for the many benefits it brings to the whole country, including the national pride we feel when we see New Zealanders standing on the podium.”
The conundrum discussed is that the benefit of New Zealanders “seeing” our sporting achievements is diminished as the majority of the opportunities to view these sports is either on pay television or not televised at all.
Is it an indictment of our social system that government funded sport, for the purpose of seeing ‘New Zealand competing and winning on the world stage’ is not freely available to all to view?
Is this situation any different than other part state funded activities? Department of Conservation fund campgrounds, but without the expense of camping equipment, camp fees etc. you can’t utilise them? School trips, if you can’t pay you can’t go, but isn’t education supposed to be free?
Is there something special about sport that we should consider it in a different light to education and access to public spaces?
What if there was additional cost associated with providing free-to-air sport? Would we be happy if the government had to pay broadcast rights to ensure sports were free on TV?
There are also questions of what we believe are events of national significance – we mustn’t forget that the professional All Blacks do not receive government funding. Is another All Blacks test against Argentina more significant than a Ranfurly Shield challenge, the Black Sox competing in the world champs (generally not broadcast), Valerie Adams winning Diamond League events (lucky if we get a sound bite on the 6 o’clock news)? Are the ANZAC commemorations at Gallipoli nationally significant, perhaps these should be televised and compete for the same dollars as sport?
I believe the argument comes down to two issues.
Sport is an important part of New Zealand’s culture, as such it is generally accepted that public funding be available to sport. But, what is the value of ‘feel good’, ‘punching above our weight’, especially in sports with low or restricted participation, rowing and equestrian for example? Funding for participation is easier to justify, but how strong is the correlation between high performance and participation? One of the fastest growing sports in New Zealand is volleyball and we don’t figure on the world stage. Football has consistently had high participation, but our global performance is variable at best. Gym Sports, again high participation yet no high performance programme, it is focused purely on participation.
Secondly, do we want to nationalise the televising of sports events? What is the cost and is that a better way to build ‘national pride’ than say being proud of our global leadership in social justice as we once were, the way we treat those in society with less, the way we were prepared to take a stand on the global stage rather than following the lead of the more powerful nations? Is there not a touch of state propaganda in a nationalising approach?
It is easy to hark back to the good old days, but rugby is professional and the All Blacks are a commercial venture, and if you want to win medals at the Olympics it costs significant money.
Fully professionally funded sports, such as Rugby, the answer is obvious – they are businesses, operating in a commercial environment and should remain so.
Olympic sports that rely heavily on public funding are more complicated and need to be considered in the round with the rest of our social system, including education, health, conservation, the arts and so forth.
I for one do get a buzz out of New Zealanders winning, but would feel a little uneasy that public money is spent or legislation enacted to enable my viewing of this in order to create a sense of national euphoria.
I would suggest that despite the restricted access that pay TV naturally creates, there are opportunities through limited free-to-air TV, social media and general media coverage to view New Zealanders winning on the world stage. This will only improve as the diversity of media organisations increases providing access to more and more sport, including the likes of softball and others which we excel at, but perhaps aren’t as commercially viable.
Any funding that gets people active and engaged is a good thing!