Of all the sports thrust into the debate about funding, hockey's situation is the most acute.

Black Sticks captain Simon Child knows. He's lived it since making the team as a 17-year-old in 2005.

"Being a hockey player and being part of a sport that is subject to contestable funding puts huge pressure on both the programme and the athlete," he said.

There are no simple solutions to the hockey conundrum. It is a comparatively expensive Olympic sport to fund, with large squads and support staff required to be competitive on the world stage, and that does not take into account the proliferation of international tournaments that incur big travel and accommodation costs.


Add the fact New Zealand are constantly on the fringes of being world class - the 1976 Montreal men's gold remains the only New Zealand success - and you have a difficult situation to reconcile.

In Rio, New Zealand were leading powerhouse Germany by two goals with just minutes remaining in their quarter-final before losing with the last act of the game.

"These are the fine margins between having funding certainty and not having anything," Child said, adding that New Zealand needed more investment in order to cross the threshold from top 10 to top four.

Yet, in a catch-22, they won't get more money until they become that top-four team.

Despite the uncertainty around funding, players are still asked to commit to two- to four-year programmes, often putting off-field careers into limbo.

"There is also pressure on many players to relocate to Auckland, where the high-performance centre is based," Child said. "That comes with a high cost of living and yet very little financial security."

Athletes' Federation boss Rob Nichol said it was a classic example where "full professionalisation" was in place except when it came to those who play the game.

"The coaches will be on fulltime salaries and doing quite nicely, thank you," he said.

"The high-performance manager doesn't have to worry about where their next cheque is coming from. The administration staff [at Hockey NZ] will be looked after.

Black Sticks skipper Simon Child says contestable funding adds huge pressure. Photo / AP
Black Sticks skipper Simon Child says contestable funding adds huge pressure. Photo / AP

"Somewhere along the line, the horse bolted and the athletes were left behind. Essentially that is why athletes now have a massive amount of cynicism about the system.

"They say, 'I'm the one filling the singlet, I'm the one upon whose shoulders rest success and failure, yet I'm left out of all the decision-making'."

Nichol claimed athletes were scared to speak out because the only ones they can talk to are the very people who have carved careers out of sports administration - and control the funding decisions for sports.

But athletes are starting to speak out. It is a squeak they hope will turn into a roar.

"We're not trying to get rich," Child said. "We're trying to pay the bills and put gas in the car to get to training."