Commonwealth Games: What funding paid off?

By Steve Deane

New Zealand judokas Adrian Leat and Moira de Villiers both won silver medals in Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker
New Zealand judokas Adrian Leat and Moira de Villiers both won silver medals in Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker

High Performance Sport New Zealand's phone number provides a pretty decent clue as to how the agency that bankrolls elite sports quantifies success. Need cash in a hurry for a major campaign -- just call 0800 GOLD MEDAL. Oh, but you'd better deliver.

Swimming and triathlon are the sports that will be most nervously eyeing December's HPSNZ funding round after duffing out at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Hockey, which delivered just a single bronze medal in exchange for $2.3 million in taxpayer funding, would also appear to have reason for concern.

When compared to the likes of non-funded sports such as judo (five medals) and wrestling (two medals), the efforts of the nation's swimming, triathlon and hockey teams don't stack up favourably.

Then again, all medals are not created equally. HPSNZ didn't set specific medal targets for Glasgow, in part because of the difficulty in predicting and assessing the level of competition. For sports such as lawn bowls and table tennis, Glasgow represent the pinnacle for the Kiwi competitors.

A good number of the big guns turned up in sports such as track cycling, however many events were well below world championship and Olympic standard.

"Some sports take [Commonwealth games] quite seriously and it is very competitive whereas other sports might not be so competitive because we don't know who is going to turn up," said HPSNZ chief executive Alex Baumann.

Assessing the return on investment is far from black and white. Historically, the medal count stacks up pretty well, particularly the 14 golds shared by eight sports. That tally was second only to the Auckland games of 1990, when Kiwi athletes made the most of their home advantage.

Baumann was pretty happy with the haul, describing the games as a useful dress rehearsal for the Rio Olympics in 2018, when the blowtorch will truly be applied to our athletes.

The question now is how HPSNZ will allocate their taxpayer-provided war chest.

As prime"targeted" sports, the funding for cycling, rowing, yachting, equestrian and rugby sevens is already locked in place. For former reliable medal source triathlon and perennial underachiever swimming, the next few months will be a nervous time. Both sports are considered long-term projects, with the 2020 Olympics the ultimate goal. The question is whether there is enough young talent in the ranks to justify a sustained investment or whether that money would be better spent elsewhere.

A counter argument to cutting funding in the face of failure would be to suggest more investment rather than less is what is actually required.

Below a certain funding level operating a high performance programme becomes untenable. Slashing swimming's funding would pretty much equate to giving up on a national programme. Baumann, a double Olympic swimming champion for his native Canada, preaches the need for patience, but: "Having said that, there has to be some milestones that need to be reached."

The standout efforts of freestyler Lauren Boyle and para-swimmer Sophie Pascoe couldn't mask team results that were well expectations.

"It would have been nice to get a few other medals and show a bit of depth," Baumann said.

The swim team has a second chance to prove its worth at the Pan Pacific Championships on the Gold Coast next month. Should it fail again, other sports are queuing up for their cash.

Judo and wrestling delivered seven medals despite not receiving a cent in national campaign funding while boxing, headlined by impressive teenaged gold medallist David Nyika, produced a strong showing in return for a funding investment of $119,000.

The key for those sports will be showing they can produce the goods on the biggest stages.

"They'll have to demonstrate that they can be successful at that world championship and Olympic level because that is what we really look at," Baumann said. "If there is potential there we are happy to take a look at campaign investment.

"The issue we have is we are targeting sports our competitors are targeting as well, trying to get that edge. But there is a strong history of boxing in New Zealand, so it is a sport we need to take a look at."

The next games will be held on the Gold Coast in 2018, while Durban and Edmonton are said to be favourites to host the 2022 edition. The Glasgow gold rush has led to suggestions New Zealand should consider joining the bidding process, however with the price tag attached to playing host to the Commonwealth's finest athletes estimated to be around $1 billion, that appears unlikely.

Money for medals

Sport - 2014 High Performance funding for NSO - Medals

Cycling - $4.3m - 15 (6 gold, 4 silver, 5 bronze)

Athletics - $2.05m - 5 (1 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze)

Para sport - $1.7m - 3 (2 gold, silver)

Swimming - $1.5m - 2 (gold, silver)

Triathlon - $1.4m - No medals

Hockey (women) - $1.3m - 1 (bronze)

Rugby 7s (men) - $1.2m - 1 (silver)

Netball - $1.2m - 1 (silver)

Hockey (men) - $1m - 0

Bowls - $280,000 - 2 (gold, silver)

Squash - $275,000 - 1 (bronze)

Boxing - $119,000 - 2 (gold, silver)

Shooting - $81,000 - 1 (gold)

Weightlifting - $64,000 - 3 (gold, silver, bronze)

Judo - $0 - 5 (2 silver, 3 bronze)

Wrestling - $0 - 2 (2 bronze)

Diving - $0 - 0

Gymnastics - $0 - 1 (bronze)

Table tennis - $0 -0

2014 Glasgow: 45* 14 Gold, 14 Silver, 17 Bronze

Previous Games

2010 Delhi: 36 (6 gold 22 silver 8 bronze)

2006 Melbourne: 31 (6, 12, 13)

2002 Manchester: 45 (11, 13, 21)

1998 Kuala Lumpur: 34 (8, 6, 20)

1994 Victoria: 41 (5, 16, 20)

1990 Auckland: 58 (17,14, 27)

1986 Edinburgh: 38 (6, 16, 14)

1982 Brisbane: 26 (5, 8, 13)

1978 Edmonton: 20 (5, 6, 9)

*Includes para sport medals

- NZ Herald

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