COMMENT:

New Zealand sport is fundamentally broken – and we are approaching a tipping point.

For all the talk ahead of the election, the Labour-led Government and its affable sports minister Grant Robertson appear not to have lifted a finger to change anything.

The issues at Cycling NZ, Triathlon NZ and Football NZ all point to the problem when you place high-performance results as your first, second and third priorities, without rigorous or in some cases even competent board-level oversight.

Advertisement

The reason these organisations are skewed so heavily towards results is because of an outmoded funding model delivered through High Performance Sport NZ that essentially denies access to taxpayer dollars for those who do not achieve results in pinnacle events.

It is outcome focused not process focused and that would be fine if the outcome was to get more kids playing sports (particularly team sports, which are so vital to a child's social development), but the only results that matter under this model are medals and titles.

I have been led down this path again after reading a report from the UK that highlighted this very issue. Britain, like New Zealand, decided some time ago that winning medals was the be-all and end-all and have reaped the benefits in years divisible by four, but some have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that, ultimately, it means jack if the rest of the country is watching from a couch while lurching towards a diabetes epidemic.

With a lion's share of the funding being directed into sports that have shown the capacity to win Olympic medals, other sports have effectively died or are on life support, unable to offer programmes at either grassroots or elite level.

One of Britain's most successful sports has been track and field, but the Guardian reports that the former chair of UK Athletics, Ed Warner, has called for a radical funding overhaul decrying a philosophy of "win more medals, get more money".

"There have been too many queasy reports of a culture of fear inside British sports; too much unease about a system that denies the likes of wheelchair rugby any help; even some soul-searching inside UK Sport about what the organisation, and the funding of elite sport, should look like in the future," the Guardian wrote.

Sound familiar?

There is a belief that winning on the world stage fosters a sense of national identity and pride and that increased engagement in the sport will filter through and stimulate the grassroots.

While it's true that for two weeks every four-year cycle we take great comfort in the achievement of our Olympians, I believe the knock-on effects for the sport are negligible and often inflated by self-serving sports administrators who seek to bedazzle with meaningless statistics.

Even if Olympic success translated to increased participation, many of our most successful sports would not be able to cope because they have no grassroots focus. All their money is spent at the elite end trying to win medals.

Steven Adams wrote in his autobiography My Life, My Fight that he would hate to think how many kids, mainly brown, never got a chance to carve out a career in sport because their parents couldn't afford sport when they were kids.

He's so right. That's not going to change either when yours and my taxpayer dollar is going to fund elite rowers at the cost of everything else.

It is worth mentioning that for a long time I believed the targeted funding model was a sound philosophy. I believed the spin that winning medals somehow equated to a deposit into the bank of our country's wellbeing.

It wasn't until taking a step back from day-to-day sports reporting and it wasn't until I became a parent to school-age, sports-mad kids, that it dawned on me how back-to-front the model was.

Sport has the power to do so much good. It is true that as a country we can take great pride in the achievements of our best athletes when we win on the world stage. But I see a day fast approaching when we realise those were the ultimate pyrrhic victories.

To use rowing again as an example: the success of our Olympic crews will mean nothing if there are no other boats to raise.

***

The cancerous rise and rise of e-sp***s is another nail in the coffin of the idea of sport being the best vehicle for health and wellbeing. I have heard Sky's reasoning behind its new e-sp***s pop-up channel, but I have no respect for it. Put it in the lifestyle suite of channels if you have to; keep it away from sport.

THE WEEK IN MEDIA ...

A nice piece from respected Indian journalist and all-round nice guy Vijay Lokapally on his hero and presumptive Pakistan PM, the imperious Imran Khan.

Good first-ish person piece here on, among other things, the lengths in which communications/ PR/ media liaison staff go to defend the hard-to-defend, and also the reluctance of sports journalists to ask awkward questions.

OK, this one's personal. Like a number of other talent-deficient cricketers with delusions of grandeur, I took off to England one summer closer to 30 years ago to play a season for a local club. For various reasons of no great interest I chose Minehead CC, in the Somerset Cricket League. The idea was to become a better cricketer but things like raw cider and a desperate shortage of money became unwanted distractions. However, I still took it personally when I saw one of their fine, young men subjected to this fate by a mean-spirited bowler from Purnell CC.

The almanac-minded among you may remember that Grant Bradburn once did the same thing to Mathew Sinclair in a first-class match, a spiteful act that alone should disqualify him from higher office.