sports funding
Image credit: Aris Chattasa/Unsplash

The sports parasites are at it again.

Not content with receiving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, Australia’s low-participation elite sports are demanding tens of millions of dollars more in funding. Matt Carroll of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) this week went to Canberra to demand more money for Olympic sports, warning that otherwise “this once great sporting nation, so proud of its diversity, punching above its weight, will be confined to a few sports played by only a few and the rest will be faded pictures of past heroes. The only gold medals won will be the races to the most obese nation and social mediocrity.”

He received glowing coverage in The Australian, which normally likes to posture as some sort of stalwart of fiscal rectitude but which has a history of supporting wasteful sports spending. Its last effort was in 2012.

As Crikey pointed out then, there is zero correlation of any kind between sporting participation — which is assumed to help reduce obesity — and elite sports funding and the quadrennial sugar hit of Olympic success it buys. The 2009 review of sports funding headed by David Crawford, which recommended shifting funding away from elite sports to encouraging grassroots participation, said it “can find no evidence that high profile sporting events like the Olympics (or Wimbledon or the Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final) have a material influence on sports participation”.

And data on Australian obesity showed how correct the Crawford review panel was; we had grown significantly heavier as a nation in the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s despite an ascent to the near-summit of Olympic sports: fourth place in the Sydney and Athens Olympics. Of course, since then, we’ve fallen down the Olympic table: sixth in Beijing with 46 medals — four fewer than Athens; 35 medals in London for eighth place and 10th place in Rio with 29 medals.

And curiously, despite the claims of Carroll, this hasn’t been linked to any gold-medal performance in obesity — as data over the last 20 years shows, growth in obesity has levelled off as our Olympic performance has fallen significantly.

So when Australia was wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on elite sport and buying our way to Olympic success, we got much fatter as a nation, but since we’ve vanished from the Olympic podium, our bellies have stopped expanding. If Carroll, the Oz and elite sportsmen and women — all of them beneficiaries of extraordinary taxpayer largesse already — want to link obesity and the Olympics, then the most sensible course would be to cut all funding and watch Australians get thin again.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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