Last week I had a somewhat heated discussion with a work colleague. I was bitterly disappointed at our standing on the Olympic ladder with only one gold medal (at that point) and thought we should be performing better. His view was “why does it matter?”
My rationale was that one gold medal doesn’t reflect well on our country. We are meant to be an athletic nation and for me a key indicator of that is number of gold medals and standing in comparison to other countries at the Olympics, a key international sporting event.
My colleague’s view didn’t waver. His thoughts were that the Olympics happens every four years and it was not that important to spend millions on elite performance when the money could be better spent at the grass roots, on our youth, who participate at the community level.
The 2009 Rudd-Government-commissioned panel that recommended that community-based sport should receive more money than the elite level echoed his sentiments. For those interested, Shaun Carney wrote a really interesting piece about just this in today’s Age newspaper.
Don’t get me wrong; being a public health practitioner, I am an avid supporter of active children and engaging them in community sport from a young age. After all, that is one of the best ways to encourage and foster participation when they grow older. But isn’t seeing a successful athlete in your chosen sport also crucial to your continued participation in the activity? Don’t our children need role models who are athletes that excel on the international stage? Isn’t excelling reflected by a gold medal, or any medal for that matter?
I appreciate that many people hold the view that continued participation doesn’t necessarily come about by seeing elite athletes win gold medals but aren’t the traits that the athletes are demonstrating the exact same ones that we want to instill in our children? Determination, persistence, graciousness (win or loss) are some of the traits we want to see in our youth.
Maybe I’m too harsh a critic by judging performance solely by gold medals but I know that I, along with a lot of other people, feel better when we are doing well which is reflected by our medal tally. Thank goodness for Anna Meares and Tom Slingsby (and others) who have helped us climb the ladder of judgement for sports performance by winning a gold medal over the past few days.
And if it is anything to go by, the excitement that my 5-year-old showed this morning when Sally Pearson did us all proud to break the Olympic record and win the 100m hurdles and then go on to add that she too one day wanted to go to the Olympics and “run like Sally”, I’d say that spending money at the elite level to encourage junior participation is money well spent.