I was reading through the Olympic posts on The Conversation when I came across Brian Stoddart’s critique of public funding of sport. Being a recipient of some of the funding that Mr Stoddart would seek to re-direct, I was, naturally, opposed to his thesis that public funding for Olympic sport should be scaled back. This in and of itself is not a problem for me – public funds are limited, and there will always be calls to move money from one pile into another. What inspired me to respond to his article was Mr Stoddart’s characterisation of the rationale behind Olympic funding.
Mr Stoddart states that elite sport got, ‘additional cash from governments on the back of no better an argument than, “it is a good look internationally for Australia to be successful at sport”.’ This is a gross oversimplification of why elite sport is worth public funding. What Stoddart derides as a “good look” is really something much more important. It is national pride.
The Olympics represent a chance to measure your country’s prowess against other nations in a variety of fields. Where you rank on the final count is a reflection of your effectiveness as a nation. If Australia, with its tiny population, can field a team that can get fourth or fifth on the medal tally ahead of nations like France or Germany, that is a concrete measurement of our national ability. If our Olympic team competes and wins, that is something that all Australians can be proud of.
Funding the Olympics, in terms of national benefit, is a bit like funding intangibles. It appears that you are gambling on the chance that a rower or runner or jumper will perform on a given day and stand on a podium draped in the Southern Cross. But what you are really funding is inspiration. You are supporting those people who dare to dream, who dare to sacrifice, who risk years on one race. If we decide, nationally, that it’s not important to dream anymore, that it’s not important to strive above what we appear capable of, it takes something away from Australia as a nation. Funding elite sport gives the good a shot at being the best, and if we stop caring about being the best, then we are a poorer nation for it.
With thanks to my pair partner James Marburg for working this idea through with me.