Chris Rattue: Outrageous fortune for an ordinary team

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Shed the tears for our embattled hockey hackers, dear citizens, but only to drown the sport's artful pitch.

Because we should only have crocodile tears for a minority sport that snaps up handout money with a ferocious set of teeth while issuing a complaint.

Sparc's latest allocation of dosh for second-tier sports brought cries of despair from hockey HQ, and to be fair to the drag-flick mob, the allocation is mysterious because their moderate men have received a small fortune while the marginally less successful women have been sent to the poorhouse.

When hockey boss Ramesh Patel declared his glass to be half full, though, many among the rest of us could only respond with derision, because you could seriously question why it should be topped up at all.

This sport of remarkably well-travelled national teams is played by very few and viewed by even fewer, yet it gets enough annual lolly to keep other sports sweet for years.

Sad to say, hockey is not alone in its complaints, with equestrian despairing at getting $525,000 for 2009 and responding by calling for greater Government money for all.

Maybe this niche-of-niche sport, which is beyond the wallets or interest of almost the entire population, has failed to notice that we are in strained financial times, that the Government is about to bail out ordinary citizens who may soon struggle to find the money for a bag of carrots.

And maybe sport in general should drop its grandiose protestations and remember that there are many other members of our society who make their own way in chosen pursuits without having cash rained on them from above.

The Olympic calling card is a handy little thing to write these continual pleas for money on, but the trough is not an endless one.

Thankfully, Sparc has quickly recognised that there is a new game in town, and $300,000 that might have found its way into hockey's net and the equestrian stables has been bent with David Beckham accuracy into the female soccer corner. Football is not the world game, loved and played by millions, for nothing and Sparc could take relative sporting success and participation to a whole new level by carefully targeting money there.

Women's soccer, in particular, is the most seriously under-mined sporting goldfield in this land.

So celebrate your outrageous fortune, Mr Patel, because the day may be looming when you wake up to Government funding on a par with that received by uncomplaining battlers like bowls and softball.

Where did hockey get this remarkable knack for scoring Sparc money from in the first place?

Go out on the street and find anyone who is interested in hockey, has ever played it, could name the national captains, has gone to a ground to watch a game or has ever watched it on TV.

Find one such fan and I'll find you a thousand who go fishing or play bowls, and even more still who cherish football, the world game that is snubbed when it comes to Sparc's top nine planet.

In this country, a handful of athletes and similar numbers who ride bikes, play cricket, row, sail, swim or do triathlons are all rated more worthy recipients than football.

Hockey certainly has friends and former players in high places, but the only logical reason for its generous funding is Olympic status. Yet hockey's record at the five-ringed circus is of one giant gold medal splash surrounded by barely a ripple.

At the last Olympics, our men arrived in China as outside prospects for a bronze medal but despite showing plenty of swagger around the village, a squad rated the best prepared to leave these shores ended up in a credible but hardly glorious scrap for seventh.

Did the cash register slam shut on these eager fingers the way it has on other sports? Not on your nelly. It opened still further, although the women have been sent to subsidy Siberia as they prepare for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Out of the Christmas sack spilled $700,000 for the male hockey charmers, which represents a generous 15 per cent of the budget for all second-level sports, a whopping $300,000 increase on last year, and is half a million dollars more than our repeat world champion male softballers receive.

Softball, which rates a mere $200,000, provides SPARC with a rare chance to get success and inspiration into lower socio-economic neighbourhoods who wouldn't give a tinker's toss for the happy hockey sticks brigade and prancing horses. Rugby league, another favourite in these areas, has scored a sad zero for now while reviewers put in the big hits at its Penrose offices.

Meanwhile squash, the most boring of sports to watch, bizarrely scores $300,000. You could look down this handout list and get an insight into what and who oils the wheels in this country, along with a few glaring misconceptions about our society.

Accompanying the handout information was a statement from SPARC's high performance manager Martin Toomey, who says the investments are based on a strategy which targets sports with the best prospects of international success at Olympics, world championships and Paralympics.

"Best prospects of international success", is clearly a subjective phrase.

One thing is certain in hockey though. Our impotent stick men are world class all right - when it comes to raising money from SPARC.

- NZ Herald

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