David Penberthy is right that our public funding of elite sport is misguided
More pertinently, given that there is always a finite amount of public money which can be spent, I reckon it’s interesting that we have come up with an unchallenged model by which able-bodied people can play sport at the highest level, and travel the world having a hell of a good time doing so, but we still haven’t got a solution to fund the care of people with disabilities so that they can live their lives with dignity.
As I argued previously, we should have some HECS style funding scheme for Government funding of sport; better still we should defund sport entirely and transfer the funding to disability service where the need is demonstrably greater.
For those who argue that we need to have a lot of taxpayers’ money being spent on elite sport, let’s not forget that we criticise other countries for buying gold medals. It would be cheaper to have the Perth Mint produce gold medals for distributing rather than funding sports as present.
Further, it is not clear that the Australian Institute of Sport model has produced better outcomes. See my first chart below. The blue line shows the percentage of Australian athletes compared with the total number of athletes (so at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, Australia fielded 8.9 per cent of the total athletes competing). The red line is a weighted percentage of medals won. I have given a gold medal a weight of 4, silver 2 and bronze 1. Taking 1956 again, we won 87 medals (using that weighting) against the total number of medals on offer of 1015 (again weighted): and hence we won 8.6 per cent of the medals.
If we divide the medal win percentage (red line) by the percentage of Australian athletes competing we get a score which indicates the efficiency (yes, I should also include the cost of sending the athletes but don’t have the data to hand) of our effort at the relevant game. The higher the score, the more medals (on a weighted basis) were won by Australian athletes relative to the size of the Australian contingent. This is the second chart. Our best games, therefore, were in 1900.
Let’s go back to the 1900 method of funding Australian athletes, where they were self-funded. Those afflicted by disability would thank the elite athletes for their sacrifices, as would the Australian taxpayer. This would be a gold medal contribution by elite athletes to those afflicted by disability. The Government could mint some gold medals to give to the Australian Olympic Committee in recognition of the removal of all future funding. I probably should run a line showing the gold price to give some context!
(2012 results as at 30 July 2012: Australian athletes have won 1 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze).
Thanks to a couple of tips. Yes, we should consider gold medal only. Silver and bronze medals are meaningless: gold is the only medal that counts. In the Ancient Olympics only the winner got anything. So here is a new chart combining the two above (with efficiency on the right hand side axis) which counts only gold medal wins. Thanks to Edwin Flack, our performance in 1896 was the most efficient.
Finally, a chart to show the total number of Australian athletes and gold medal wins since 1896.