COMMENT:

Dylan Cleaver is one of our country's greatest sports journalists. He's a multi-award winner, he's knows the sector and he is championing taxpayers' interests when it comes to how the Government invests in sport and recreation.

I applaud him for that.

I also agree with him when he says that "sport has the power to do so much good". But I can't agree with him when he says New Zealand sport is broken.

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According to Sport NZ's Value of Sport report, 92 per cent of Kiwis believe that sport and physical activity help keep them fit and healthy, 84 per cent say sport brings people together and creates a sense of belonging, and 83 per cent believe that sport contributes to our national identity and helps instil a sense of national pride. These are not statistics Dylan would have seen in a British report.

While I am concerned about the slowing rate of participation in sport over recent years, I also know that we have a system that is capable of addressing these issues while continuing to deliver results at the highest level.

In the same way that sport's contribution to society is not just about the success of the All Blacks or medals brought home every four years, the Government's priorities for sport are not only at the high performance end.

We invest in Sport NZ for one thing (participation outcomes – getting more Kiwis being active) and High Performance Sport NZ for another (winning on the world stage). We can and do invest significantly at both ends of the sporting spectrum.

In my role as Minister for Sport & Recreation, I've given Sport NZ four priorities.

The first is to see a greater emphasis on women and girls in sport. We want to not only grow the participation of women and girls, but also to raise their public profile and improve their ability to pursue professional careers.

The second is to address underrepresentation. Not all New Zealanders participate in sport at the same rate, be it due to financial or cultural reasons. It's in high deprivation communities that the impacts of physical inactivity are most acute. Things like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders. My priority is to improve the overall rates and quality of participation among these people.

The third area is strengthening the long-term participation opportunities for New Zealanders with disabilities. I want to see a New Zealand where disability is no barrier to living an active, healthy lifestyle.

And finally, I'm determined we address the worrying drop-off in young people's participation once they leave secondary school. Sport NZ's latest Active NZ survey shows that participation is stable throughout adult years, so it's crucial that we get people to stay involved physical activity as they transition out of high school.

There are changes happening at the High performance end too. We had our best ever Olympics in 2016 and our second straight Paralympics at the top of the per capita table, but it's true there are some challenges in the high performance system.

I have expressed my view publicly, and to Sport NZ and High Performance Sport NZ that the incidents at Cycling New Zealand and other concerns at the elite level do give us pause for thought as to the impact that a win-at-all-costs attitude is having on athlete welfare. We need to seriously consider how we balance the need to win with the health and wellbeing of our elite athletes. Sport NZ chief executive Peter Miskimmin has also said this, including in this newspaper.

I can assure New Zealanders that we are always seeking the best possible returns from our investment in sport and recreation. Whether it's through improvements to their own mental and physical health, making friends and gaining a sense of belonging, or feeling the sense of national pride from seeing our athletes succeed on the world stage, I think they're getting a pretty good deal.

Grant Robertson is Minister for Sport & Recreation