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Published 09 August 2012 03:50, Updated 09 August 2012 05:00
As business knows too well, all resources are finite and deciding how to allocate them in the end is what makes a business fail or fly. This constraint of limited resources is true in all areas and should inform the inevitable debate when our disappointed Olympians return. There are still a few more days to go before the 2012 Olympics finish – still a few more days in which to win back some sense of pride with a few more gold medals.
It’s been a traumatic Olympics this year – not enough gold medals, too many silver medals (12 at press time plus eight bronze medals) and lots of upset athletes. Although the games aren’t over and we can hope for some medals in the team sport events of the second week, it’s impossible from this point that we will come anywhere near equalling our tally of 46 medals in Beijing, down from our high of 58 medals in Sydney in 2000. The national body for swimming, Swimming Australia, has already indicated a review will be begin once the athletes get back.
There are many influences on performance – luck, dedication and hard work all play their part – but the only one that can be controlled at an organisational level is the ability to fund a particular activity. Here sport hits up against the constraint of limited resources. There is a finite amount of money that governments or communities can commit.
In the 2010 budget, the federal government committed $325 million to sport and most of that went to supporting elite athletes, with $52 million carved out specifically to support Olympic candidates. While this may seem generous, it was half what the Australian Olympic Committee wanted and committee members have already gone on record saying that the lack of gold medals is down to cuts in government funding.
The competition for funding comes from community sports bodies that argue that funding sports with high levels of participation, such as football or netball, has a better impact on the health of the nation. The 2009 Independent Sports Report (the Crawford Report) highlighted this tension when it stated that a high Olympic medal tally was not the best way of measuring sporting performance.
When a business faces a tough choice in allocating capital, it asks where it will it get the best return on that capital. It will look at this over both the short and the long term, so while in the short term it may be better to hire more top-performing sales people, in the long term it may be better to increase the skills of customer service staff to keep more of its existing customers.
We can ask the same question of sports funding: Do we want to increase our medal tally or do we want to raise the level of fitness across a wider group of people? In terms of a fit, healthy and productive nation, the latter is more desirable.
Supporters of elite athletics need to demonstrate a link between funding top performers and increased participation at the grass roots level – a relationship of which the Crawford Report saw no evidence. In other words, it’s all very well for armchair Olympics supporters to rail against reduced funding for elite sport but if they want to ensure that it gets adequate funding, the best way would be to get up and go for a jog around the block.