The challenge of funding sport for females

I was still getting over the Cricket World Cup final loss to England when I noted that the Silver Ferns netball team had lost their last group match at the Netball World Cup to old rivals and reigning world champions Australia by 1 point. Under any other circumstances that might have been an ominous warning. But this was cause for a grin. A rapidly rising New Zealand team that just 13 months ago had been written off as not having a dogs show of reaching the finals

Few had expected them to reach the final. 14 months ago, the team was in disarray having lost to all of its major rivals Australia, England, Jamaica. It had failed to make it onto the dais at the Commonwealth Games, where in the past they had always taken silver or gold. Even relative minnows Malawi had managed a 4 point victory over them. General expectations were that New Zealand would exit at the semi-finals and maybe pick up the bronze medal (which went to England). So, to not only make the final no one was expecting them to, but then defeat Australia, was nothing short of stunning.

But just as stunning despite not being anything new and criminally overlooked following the match by a lot of people was the complete absence of prize money. Until A.N.Z. Bank, a primary sponsor agreed that they should get $25,000 a piece, the Silver Ferns were destined to return home with no monetary compensation for the time taken to become the best in the world. Contrast that to the $3 million distributed among the Black Caps following their Cricket World Cup Final against England where neither regulation play or extra play could find a winner.

In the case of the Silver Ferns, I have to agree with a column that was written a few days ago, which said that they should have said “some financial recognition by way of prize money would be nice”. Maybe for some they were thinking that the dollars are nice, but nothing could beat lifting the crown, which on a personal level might be true. But what is it telling future generations of of females about demanding their worth be recognized? Not much. Oh, and sure netball is not the biggest sport on the planet. Sure it is not like football where the transfer of a star like Ronaldo would likely cost over US$100 million. Sure it is not cricket, where Virat Kohli is worth US$140 million from endorsements. But in the 21st Century, it is time that those who play the elite variation of the game start demanding that their contribution to the sport gets recognized.

Perhaps it is an indictment on the state of the game in New Zealand that financial compensation had not even been contemplated by any one. Perhaps it is telling us that the unfortunate mental messages that netball players are not worthy of just reward have succeeded in doing their unfortunate business. However, it was also telling to hear from the International Federation of Netball Associations that financial compensation for the most elite players has not really been on the agenda.

A few years ago, after much heat from commentators, the players and the public, Rugby New Zealand finally addressed the lack of compensation for the Black Ferns. Apparently until then three consecutive world cup titles was not enough to justify financial reward. Yes, we might be a small player in terms of our financial resources, but the All Blacks are a global brand worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Sure there might not be so much television coverage but if the dollars are not put into making sure people know in the first place, of course they are not going to get much coverage.

Rugby however is going places, despite what I got told by some Americans on the Fox News channel Facebook page when I pointed out that America was at the 2011 and 2015 Rugby World Cup’s. I know this because rugby is one of the fastest growing sports there. When America defeats the New Zealand 7’s team, you know they know how to play the game. But does America know that America knows how to play the game?

I do not see this happening in netball. The sport needs to start arranging exhibition matches in places like the U.S. where multiple netball associations exist under a fractured organization. Let them see the thrill of an Australia New Zealand exhibition match in progress.

It is a slow work in progress, but I hope when the A.N.Z. prize money comes through the Silver Ferns are made to understand that they really are worth it. And that before too long, I.F.N.A. realizes that the sport will not grow unless they start seriously marketing it in new countries. Like America…

Drugs ruining sport

Towards the end of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, the Womens shot put gold medal competition was held. There was New Zealand Valerie Adams, who had lifted gold in the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics and who seemed to be a virtual shoo in for defending her gold medal. Belarussian shot putter Nazheda Ostapchuk had other ideas. But were they proper?

No. Right from the start there looked to be something wrong with Nazheda Ostapchuk. From her behaviour during the medal ceremony to her performances, to her physical appearance. It was obvious something was not quite right.

  1. Red flag no. 1: First off, and this struck me as odd right from the get go even though I never saw the shotput competition until the gold medal phase, Mrs Ostapchuk looked surprisingly displeased to be on the stage – alternating from very pleased to very angry.
  2. Red flag no. 2: Never in the history of the discipline has someone been able to suddenly throw their shot more than a metre than they could just a few weeks earlier. But somehow Ms Ostapchuk was able to do this.
  3. Red flag no. 3: It is not uncommon for women to have bone structures that give them a more masculine appearance. Ms Ostapchuk has long had a similar appearance, which I gave her the benefit of the doubt over.

Alas, she was using Metenolone. This is a banned substance that among other things increases bone structure in terms of density. Ms Ostapchuk was banned and made to hand her medal back to the Olympic Committee. It is a sad indictment on sport that Ms Ostapchuk is far from being alone. Lance Armstrong went on to win the Tour de France on numerous occasions only for it to be found out that he was a systemic drugs cheat. After being stripped of all of his titles and wrecking the lives of several people along the way,  American sprinter Marion Jones did jail time after being stung in a drugs racket for not one, but multiple offences.

In New Zealand we have been very fortunate. No athletes have been stripped of medals or given bans because of illegal substances in their system. New Zealand athletes at the Olympics are headed by a competent Olympic Committee that is well regarded overseas.

Sadly I cannot say the same for other nations. Most recently I heard for the first time that Russia has a state sponsored doping scheme for athletes. Whilst Russian athletes are often suspected of being cheats, there are also many athletes who play clean and hard and bring great credit to their country – why should they and their clean performing rivals in other countries suffer the legal consequences because a few of their countrymen have no morals?

How sad. Sport is supposed to be the bastion of humanity’s fittest and finest athletes, not cheats who have degraded themselves, their people and flag by taking substances that artificially alter their performance. What is it saying to young people who are learning right from wrong/fairness from cheating that this is happening. Moreover the fact that one of the biggest participants in the Olympics has a state funded doping programme suggests that a much bigger problem exists than just the athletes who participate. But political tensions and rhetoric are so high and being fanned by dirty geopolitical machinations that any attempt at holding the Russian Government responsible will be seen as an anti-Russian agenda however much it might be true.

How much more damage does sport have to suffer before as a way of life and leisure it comes together and says enough is enough?


Olympic sized reality check for New Zealand

In the last two days there have been suggestions that New Zealand should consider a bid to host the Summer Olympics.

Now, I am a nationalist at heart and I absolutely believe in New Zealand’s capabilities. We probably could have hosted the Cricket World Cup on our own, and there would have been nothing greater than playing the Cricket World Cup Final on New Zealand soil. But to host the largest, most watched, most expensive, most resource intensive sporting fixture anywhere in the world is not only totally unrealistic, but it would also leave an economic legacy that we can ill afford.

If we are lucky, we might be able to host another Commonwealth Games. Our experience hosting the games in Christchurch in 1974 and in Auckland in 1990 was quite positive. The Commonwealth Games is much smaller, restricted to the nations of the British Commonwealth. The New Zealand contingent would be one of the larger contingents, as opposed to the Olympics where the largest would be from Russia, China and the United States. Hosting the Commonwealth Games though is a quantum leap from hosting the Olympics.

There are several very good reasons we should not bid to host the Olympics. And I would be willing to guess that both Mike Hosking and the International Olympic Committee Chief Executive gave nary a thought to these:

  • Security – we would need thousands of soldiers, police, and other security personnel. They would need to be conversant in New Zealand law enforcement. We would need security surveillance capacity that simply does not exist in New Zealand at the moment and which for the most part we would otherwise have no need for.
  • Stadia – the number of venues that would need to be built (unfortunately the Olympic movement seems to accept nothing other than brand new)would be beyond the budget of any one New Zealand city council, regional or district or any combination of them many times over.
  • A complete athletes village would need to be constructed – and what would happen to it when the Olympics were over?
  • The environmental impact for just 14 days of sporting excellence would be unbecoming for such a small nation as New Zealand
  • The economic cost when we have a city still recovering from the country’s worst natural disaster in 80 years might very well bankrupt New Zealand before the first athlete arrived. What then?
  • To cope with the huge influx of officials, spectators, competitors, states people from around the world, the infrastructure would need to be totally overhauled, even if it was in Auckland

Philosophical issues are also raised by hosting a sporting fixture that is becoming very expensive for even wealth countries such as the U.S., Japan and so forth to host. A decade after the Athens Olympics, Greece is in a state of economic malaise. It really struggled to meet I.O.C. deadlines for completing certain tasks, and the stadia today are largely disused. In Brazil, which is hosting the Olympics in 2016, the corruption that has permeated Brazilian politics and the associated crackdown on human rights raise issues about its suitability. Although Rio de Janeiro looks certain to host the games, what will the cost be?