If we continue to pour millions of dollars into high performance sport, then do we need to face the reality that we are simply developing the elites, asks Newstalk ZB's Rachel Smalley.

Dylan Cleaver wrote a very good column in the Herald. In the column he said, "we need to talk about how white the New Zealand Olympic team is".

He says if you look at the team photo, the motto could be "Faster, stronger... whiter."

So we're sending a team of around 170 athletes to the Rio Olympics and outside of the sevens team, Cleaver points out you can count the number of Pacific Island and Maori athletes on your fingers.

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And yet a fifth of the population identifies as Maori or Pacific Islander.

Dylan Cleaver: We need to talk about how white the NZ Olympic team is

So why is that? Why is our Olympic team not more reflective of our society?

Cleaver says the reason is because of how we fund sport, and our focus, in particular, on high level sport.

The sports that take up the lion's share of funding - rowing, cycling and sailing - are expensive sports. There's no doubt about that. If you're an athlete competing in those sports, before you even get to the competition level, your family would have probably forked out significant money to get you there.

If I look at what I did when I was younger, I competed in equestrian for about 10 years, and it's an expensive sport. Just keeping a horse upright and capable of competing requires a lot of cash. I look back now and wonder how many times my parents muttered under their breath, "Why the hell couldn't she have just played netball". It would have been a lot cheaper.

And so I was lucky. I was in a position where my family could back me in my chosen sport.

But that's not the case for everyone. Not at all.

And so it is that so-called 'free sports' - rugby, league and netball - attract some of our superb athletes from across the socio-demographic divide, but that's almost where it ends.

This is not to discredit our current Olympic team. Every athlete is there on merit. Every athlete is top of their game. Every athlete is brilliant and deserving of their place.

Lack of diversity in Kiwi Olympic team? NZOC respond

But what Cleaver questions - and it's a really good question - is whether we've got our funding model right. Are we too focused on this two-week period every four years? The Olympic games. Are we too medal focused?

There are so many factors to consider when it comes to funding. What is the goal? What are we trying to achieve when it comes to funding sport?

Is it to increase the participation rate? Do we also need to acknowledge the role that sport plays when it comes to keeping kids and teens on the straight and narrow? How many athletes, particularly in rugby and league, will tell you that they were going down the wrong path when a teacher at school or a sports coach discovered they had a physical gift, and that turned their world around.


The New Zealand rowing team are do enjoy a lion's share of funding along with rowing and cycling. Photo / Getty

And then there's our obesity crisis. We're overweight. Our kids are overweight, dangerously so. Horrendously so.

And so it's a valid question. Have we got our funding model, right?

If we continue to pour millions of dollars into high performance sport, then do we need to face the reality that we are simply developing the elites?

Outside of our sevens team, our Olympic squad is very, very white.

And is that because we're putting too much emphasis on chasing gold, and too little emphasis on the grassroots?

What does sporting success look like to you? Is it a gold medal, or is a far greater degree of participation?