Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GYMNASTICS MADE EXAMPLE IN AUSTRALIAN SPORTS FUNDING DEBATES



Gymnastics some how found itself being used in a battle that is currently ensuing downunder over Australian sports funding in a recent ABC Sport article.  This battle has begun because, according to budget recommendations, there may be $108 million dollar extra to be used toward sport in Australia next year.  Now there is just the tricky question of where it will go. 

That gymnastics found itself mentioned at all is particularly surprising since gymnastics has barely rated a mention in sports debates over the last, well, two centuries since Australia was settled.

There has been a fair amount of debate on which way to focus funding for sport and on how it should be governed.  In one faction, led by a business man, David Crawford, who is responsible for a national review into soccer, there are those who believe that the greatest portion of funding should go to sports that attract mass participation such as football, soccer, surfing, swimming, tennis and cricket.  Crawford told press he believed that these sports "carried the national ethos" more and were practiced every day by the average Australian.  This group is described as believing that Olympic sports should be self-funded.

In the other faction , led by John Coates, a new board memeber of the IOC, are those who believe that the sports that have a lower participation rate, but continue to win medals for Australia on the world stage, such as rowing, water polo, diving, and of course, gymnastics, should still retain a good share of funding.
This is where gymnastics came in;

John Coates asked, "Who is to say Australia is not a dominant force in gymnastics in five years?  We won three medals in that sport in the recent World Championshsips.  Gymnastics doesn't rate a mention in Mr Crawford's list of popular sports."





This is a tricky debate. 

The self-funding option is quite out of the question.  According to this particular article, swimming is the only Olympic sport that comes close to self-funding.  Gymnastics would not have a hope in hell.  We do not have the sheer numbers of private gyms, staffed by ex-european coaches that theUnited Sttates does, nor the population from which to find a talent pool, and of course, for both these reasons, mass participation.  Unlike selffunded sports like AFL (one of our main football leagues), gymnastics could not get paying people through the door on a regular basis.

I do sincerely like the idea that sports that are practised on an everyday basis by Australians receives good funding.  That promotes general good health, fight our obesity problem as well as hopefully maintaining our international excellence in sport. But what scares me about that, is that nearly every sport mentioned by Crawford (swimming aside) is a male-dominated sport.  In fact the one other female sport that I believe women, or young girls participate in enmasse, netball, did not even rate a mention.

Also, Crawford argues that money was better spent on these participation sports because they were practised for a lifetime, rather than spend it on "a small group of elites who will remain at that level for just a few years."  Most elite sports are still practised for a long time, even if the elite competitive phase is short.  Gymnastics is probably the shortest, yes.  But that doesn't mean the gymnast stops.  Also, these elite athletes often become coaches, passing the sport on to more athletes.  They often still participate in the sport on one level or another for a lifetime.

Another pertinent aspect of the Olympic vs Everyday sport debate the article touches on is that Olympic success attracts participants to the sport.  This article cites a medal-winning Olympic rower who says participation has swelled since Beijing.  This is a great point.  We all know that international gymnastics would never have had the boom it did if the Munich games hadn't been televisied and the whole world wouldn't have had the chance to fall in love with Olga Korbut, and millions of girls want to be her!  Mary- Lou Retton had the same affect on the USA.  Beth Tweddle and Louis Smith and Daniel Keatings, by all reports lately are doing the same thing in the UK.  Without a continuance of funding, gymnasts like Lauren Mitchell and Prashanth Sellathurai won't be able to do this for kids in Australia.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this debate.  Obviously I hope funding stays in place for elite 'Olympic sports,' not just so gymnastics gets to keep trying to be competitive on a world scale, but so that the success it brings attracts greater numbers to the sport on an every day level.

Also, we Australians take great pride in our ability to rate so highly at the Olympics despite our fractional population and comparative lack of funding to the big powers we find ourselves amongst.  To me, this is as much a part of our "national ethos" as male-dominated sports like football, cricket and surfing.  Olympic success in gymnastic might give another reason for us to be proud.


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5 comments:

  1. Excellent analysis. I agree that sport needs more funding definitely, this could in turn prevent the obesity epidemic which is costing the economy billions in health care for 'lifestyle diseases'.

    I also think that 'popular' sports such as football/cricket/AFL/Rugby league deserve funding for grassroots levels because they can field many children and are relatively inclusive (unlike gymnastics which does tend to lean towards a certain types). However, these sports have a tonne of money from sponsorship, tv rights, memberships etc. And as you mentioned (and Id failed to notice) they are all male-dominated.

    Olympic sports need funding because there are so many, which in itself can be inclusive. Almost all olympic sports are aimed at both male and femal participants and those such as athletics/swimming/cycling etc can be extremely inclusive for kids with a range of skills. Even gymnastics at a beginner level takes all types and is extremely active.

    I hope that gymnastics and all sports in general, especially those that are sturggling for funding but already somewhat successful (eg archery/rowing etc) benefit in the future but this report seems to indicate otherwise

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  2. Well, you guys are lucky you are getting funding at all at the moment, in South Africa gymnastics is completely self funding....and unfortunately we lose many talented gymnasts because they actually just can't afford to continue....

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  3. When they are talking about sports that attract mass participation and cite swimming as an example, do they realise that gymnastics actually has a higher participation rate than swimming (well according to the NSO's Annual Reports anyway) - gymnastics has about 120,000 vs 95,000 for swimming.

    Also, how do we know that we couldn't get large numbers of paying people through the doors. The only reason we have small crowds is because nobody know when a gym comp is on, and when they do know we do get big crowds such as worlds 05 and commonwealth games 06. If comps such as nationals were properly promoted (and run a bit more efficiently) we could probably get at least 5000 or 6000 people attending every year.

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  4. This precisely why I think we couldn't get people through the door- not without an initial injection of money, anyway. It cost to get a lot of publicity and sponsorship up and going. Yeah, I hope Pac Rims pulls a good crowd, which I am sure it will, but more impiortantly, it needs to be televisied. More people need to see it, to find the desire to attend events like that.

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  5. where is the medal in the photograph

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