Who Pays For Sporting Gold Medals?

The well performed sports journalist Mark Reason has an interesting piece on Stuff at the moment. He is asking why Britain is suddenly a sporting super-power.

“Indeed, how come British sport is doing so darned well at the moment? The shortest, simplest and most accurate answer is money.”

Reason is right when you look at the British picture – at the Atlanta games in 1996 Britain languished in 36th place on the medal table behind such sporting giants as Belgium. By the Brits’ home games last year they multiplied their Atlanta haul of one gold by 65, to rise to third on the table behind only the USA and China. This massive improvement was very largely funded by the money generated by the National Lottery.

Can other countries copy GB?

Next the thoughtful journalist gets it a bit wrong. He says

“If New Zealand wishes to emulate Britain, a particularly daft ambition it seems to me, then it needs to covertly tax the poor and plough the money back into sport.”

It seems to me that that is exactly what New Zealand is already doing to some extent. Our sports bodies get significant parts of their income from gaming trusts. The gambling that funds the trusts is largely the recreation of those lower down the socio-economic scale.

When you add in the taxpayer dollars from High Performance Sport New Zealand that are another major funding stream for our top athletes and think about where else this money could be spent it is clear that Olympic Medals are funded by the people and that the money could be spent elsewhere.

Every day we hear of hungry children, cold pensioners, underfunded hospitals and other areas of social need.

Do we really want to buy Olympic medals rather than a better social welfare net?

This question is topical as we reflect on the magnificent performance of the NZRowing team at the World Cup II regatta this weekend. Four Golds and a Silver from only part of our team is a truly great result. We should however reflect on the cost, and on who is paying it.

Note: Last year Rowing NZ received $6.7m from Sport NZ and $146k from Gaming trusts. This equated to 77% of total income. In 2012 Sport NZ received $76.7m from the crown and $36.7m from the Lottery Board.

Figures from Annual Reports.

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