Spoilt sports

Sport. Despite Australia’s rise up the obesity rankings, it holds an important place in our culture and identity. One may quibble that nowadays our self-image of a super-sporty nation is becoming apocryphal, but it’s still a strong belief. It’s not entirely without justification – despite increasing urbanisation and the proliferation of indoor pursuits (thanks to the digital revolution and cheap electronics from abroad), Australia has a high participation rate compared to most countries, and we certainly watch a lot of it if you go by television ratings. Our achievements at an elite level, such as the Olympics, are far above what is proportionate to our population, and even our monetary investment, which is substantial.

Which brings me to the release of the Independent Sport Panel’s report which has caused such a hue and cry by Coates and opinion columnists.

Let’s dispense with Coates’s self-serving hyberbole. He claims that Australian Olympic successes have inspired the nation. Well, yes. I admit to feeling moved and proud by certain efforts and victories in various Olympics by Australian athletes. However, impressive or inspirational efforts and victories by non-Australians have had similar effects. In addition, are these pleasant but temporary lifts of the spirit worth so much money? It’s been estimated that each Olympic medal costs about $5 million in direct government spending, not counting corporate sponsorship. I’m fairly certain that greater benefits could be had elsewhere for the same cost.

Coates also claims that the report is suggesting that Olympic successes are worthless. It does nothing of the sort. Refusing to increase Olympic sport funding by the requested $100 million (!) is hardly spitting in the face of Olympians or the Australian people.

Coates goes on to say that Australia can only reach 8th best in the medal tally on current spending levels (only!) He says that “It seems un-Australian to me to settle for something second best.” Yet if all his funding desires were met, we’d still only be aspiring for a “top 5” result! Is Coates seriously suggesting that Australia should aim to topple the super-heavyweights of China, the USA, and Russia, settling for nothing less than first position on the medals table?

Tell ‘im he’s dreamin’.

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