Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sport Report Recommends Robbing The Poor To Give To The Rich

The release of the Crawford Report into sports funding has unleashed a flurry of controversy, debate, and downright fury. The reason for this is the central recommendation that money currently spent on Olympic sports, such as canoeing and archery, should be redirected into popular professional sports, such as AFL, rugby league, cricket and so on. It seems that the panel in charge of the report is unable to see any value in the Olympic Games, and instead want to direct funding into sports which are already so well funded through corporate sponsorship and broadcast rights as to be not only self sustaining, but highly profitable businesses in their own right. It’s as if the report has been complied by bean counters instead of sportspeople.

The report suggests that money should be directed into sports which are more in tune with the national psyche, while at the same time it states that the public should be re-educated as to what constitutes Olympic success. That’s not only a contradiction in terms, it’s insulting to the Australian people. On the one hand it suggests that sports funding should reflect what people think and feel, and on the other hand it says that people should be told what to think and feel. The fact is that the Australian people already know what they think and feel, and they know what constitutes Olympic success. It’s winning medals. If you’re not winning medals then you cannot claim to be successful at the Olympics. There is no substitute for winning medals.

More importantly, a big part of the Australian psyche is reflected by the unexpected victory of the perceived underdog. Without government funding it is unlikely that we would have enjoyed the Olympic moments of magic delivered by Steven Bradbury, Tatiana Grigorieva, and even Cathy Freeman. But bean counters don’t understand moments of magic, they only look at spreadsheets and ledgers. That much is clear from another extraordinary assertion found in the report, which is that there is no evidence that high profile sporting events materially influence participation rates in sport. That is just utter nonsense. If that was true, then where did all of today’s competitors come from? What motivated and inspired them to pursue their sports? If there was nothing for them to aspire to, and no role models for them to admire, they would never have become the people they are now.

But removing support for Olympic sports such as archery and tae kwon do and redirecting that money into cricket and football makes no sense either. The big, popular, professional sports are already well supported. They attract corporate sponsorship, media money, and community support at every level. Some of the money that goes in at the top finds its way down to the junior development level. The avenues for pursuing success in those sports are well paved with dollars. Taking the money away from Olympic sports to put into mass market sports is basically stealing from the poor to give to the rich. The whole point of government support is to provide opportunities to the community which would not otherwise exist.

Unfortunately, the raw reaction to the silly ideas in this report has overshadowed any useful recommendations that it might contain. Among them are the suggestion to put sport and fitness back into education, and a call to boost community sport, including money for local sporting infrastructure. These are good ideas, but they are lost in the sea of noise created by the astoundingly dense suggestion that we can succeed at the Olympic Games without actually winning any medals. That makes about as much sense as making an omelette without any eggs.

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