The Politics Of Funding Sport

By David

For a small country the New Zealand government puts a lot of money into sport and recreation. In a document Sport New Zealand call their Statement of Intent, the amount to be spent in 2013/2014 will be about $125 million; most of which will come from the government and some from Lottery Grant income. The Statement of Intent is actually an important document. This is the story Sport New Zealand put to the government which, once approved, provides the authority to go off and spend, spend, spend.

Page 34 of the Statement of Intent tells us the $125 million will be spent as is shown in the table below.







Sundry Admin and Research



High Performance






That High Performance money ($62,500,000) gets spent through a branch of Sport New Zealand called High Performance Sport New Zealand. The table below shows the sort of amounts High Performance Sport New Zealand has handed out recently to five of New Zealand sport’s largest recipients.















So what does Sport New Zealand tell the government these big amounts are going to be spent on? What policy did they ask the government to approve? Did the approval include a fleet of Mazda SUVs for Swimming New Zealand? Well the answer to all those questions is in the Statement of Intent. And this is what Sport New Zealand told the government. This is how Sport New Zealand said they were going to spend our tax dollars. High Performance Sport New Zealand would buy us all the following (page 22, PDF file).

We want New Zealand’s most talented athletes to be identified and developed, and to win on the world sporting stage. We will work with, and invest in, those sports that are capable of producing results on the world stage. In particular we will:

• lead a highly effective high performance system that ensures resources are targeted and prioritised to deliver performance outcomes

• assist NSOs to build world-class coaching and high performance programme leadership

• enhance the daily training and competition environments (meeting targeted sports’ high performance facility needs)

• deliver quality performance support for our athletes and coaches

• work in partnership to increase the high performance capability of NSOS

• strengthen high performance athlete development (including talent identification and development)

• lead an integrated and robust innovation and research programme to drive increased performance.”

And do you know what that is? It’s rubbish. It’s a smoke screen. It’s weasel words designed to mean whatever the authors decide. Any structure from the most laissez-faire democracy to a soviet gulag could fit comfortably into those goals and aims. What Minister of the Crown; what cabinet meeting is going to disagree with “assisting to build world class coaching” or “strengthen high performance athlete development”. Voting against that stuff would have been as impossible as voting against the abolition of slavery. No wonder Sport New Zealand got the approval of cabinet.

It seems to me that Sport New Zealand has taken the National Government’s approval of the nothing-words in the Statement of Intent and has embarked on the wholesale socialisation of sport in New Zealand. I bet no National Party cabinet meeting was aware that was going to be the product of their vote.

As we know it is the function of government to make policy. It is the function of civil servants to action the policy. Good government demands that those roles are not muddled. In the case of sport in New Zealand, it is arguable that by presenting Cabinet with a mass of generalities, the bureaucrats in Sport New Zealand have been able to make policy and action it. Sport New Zealand could well have found a tricky way to exceed their authority and their power.

And the policy they prepared and have followed is to centralize the delivery of elite sport. But I bet the alternative, chosen by the sport of swimming in the USA, France and recently Australia, of a private enterprise, diversified delivery structure was never discussed with John Key or Murray McCully and was never debated around the cabinet table. In Sport New Zealand it seems the organization’s civil servants had their socialist goals firmly in mind. All they needed was the National Cabinet to approve a sufficiently vague policy and their bureaucratic plans could proceed unchallenged. And that’s what they achieved when John Key’s cabinet approved Sport New Zealand’s Statement of Intent.

Somehow, for the good of swimming, we must bring the parlous state of sport, the futile and pointless pursuit of the centralized delivery of sport and the generation of failure that the policy has caused in swimming to the attention of politicians on both sides. Members of all parties need to be made aware of the decisions being made in their name. The subject of how sport is delivered in New Zealand has to become a topic of genuine political debate. All the alternatives, socialist and diversified, need to be presented. Sport New Zealand has not done that. Sport New Zealand will not do that. Not while they are up to their eyeballs in new foreign coaches, imported alien administrators, a new swimming pool, a new velodrome and clearing a lake in the Waikato. Sport New Zealand is too committed to the central control of New Zealand sport to back out now.

The facts are so very simple. I am certain John Key, David Cunliffe, Winston Peters, Russell Norman and Te Ururoa Flavell have no idea of the futile waste involved in centralising New Zealand sport. Those leaders are not aware of how much of the $62,500,000 High Performance vote is wasted. A very personal story may help them understand the error of Sport New Zealand’s current policy. A few years ago New Zealand’s best swimmer was a young man called Danyon Loader from Dunedin. In the modern world of Sport New Zealand, Danyon Loader would have been plucked out of Dunedin and placed in the care of a High Performance coach at the Auckland Millennium Institute. And New Zealand would have lost an Olympic silver and two Olympic gold medals.

Why? Because Loader had a special relationship with his family, his town, his school and most of all with his rough diamond coach; a man called Duncan Laing; a man, who before Loader, the likes of Miskimmin and his Sport New Zealand mates would never categorize as “world-class coaching and high performance programme leadership”. At Miskimmin’s Millennium Institute, without the rock and special relationship of his home coach, Danyon Loader would have withered and died; just as a dozen other potential Loaders have vanished on the pyre of Sport New Zealand dogma.

If any reader of this post knows a New Zealand politician, please ask them to read what we have said. Our arguments may be rejected. That is fine. They should however at least be heard.