flamers

So the Olympics are over for another four years after we blew hundreds of millions of dollars getting our athletes to Rio.

That’s hundreds of millions of your tax dollars and mine invested to produce the national euphoria that apparently comes from knowing our Laser class sailor is the best in the world and that our rugby sevens girls are unstoppable.

I actually haven’t seen too many people doing cartwheels about this and I reckon the $377 million spent on Australian elite sport since the London Olympics is too high a price.

It’s been more than a century since Baron de Coubertin summed up his vision for the modern Olympic ideal that “the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well’’.

These days the Olympics are all about spending cash to win gold. The countries that do well on the medal table – the only measure of success that anyone is really interested in – are the ones who spend big.

What success Australia has had in a disappointing Games overall came about because it spent more than most other nations and it has facilities, such as the Australian Institute of Sport, that are superior to anything athletes from poorer countries experience.

Australian swimmers gobbled up $37.9 million in funding in the four years leading into Rio, more than $12 million per gold medal.

The absurdity of this outlay to produce fleeting moments of backslapping was beautifully illustrated by a mock ad on the ABC program Gruen last week. It urged Australia to lower its expectations and go for bronze. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper.

The ad highlighted the plight of Australia’s 105,000 sad, desperate homeless people. One, with no safe place to stay, says forlornly: “Yeah, I was praying for a bag of gold in the pool.’’ Another, with tears rolling down her bruised face, laments ironically: “I can’t sleep I’m so excited about our chances in the rowing.’’

The stark message was that our $377 million could be spent more wisely to benefit more people than the privileged few hundred in the Rio spotlight.

In the 1920s, General John Monash, who knew a lot about teamwork, having led 200,000 Diggers on the Western Front in World War I, reckoned Australia’s obsession with sport prevented it from adequately addressing more pressing issues.

I’ve had some experience with preparing athletes for international competition. In the 1980s, when I was patron of the Newtown Police Boys Club in Sydney, we sent Jeff Fenech to the Los Angeles Olympics and Jeff Harding to the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. There was little government cash then and most of their international boxing competitions were funded by chook raffles and whip-arounds. Both went on to be world champions.

The $377 million spent on elite sport in Australia could give a lot of homeless kids and young mothers a safe bed. It could pay for a lot of playgrounds to encourage sport at the grassroots, smooth out a few more blind spots on the Bruce Highway, improve public transport, or help wage a tougher fight against ice.

To a lot of Australians, that really would be gold.

First published 22/08/2016 at http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/opinion-elite-sport-in-australia-costs-too-much-in-gold/news-story/c1d3f5678c1d5e0a3b23bbff77f780cb. Pilfered because it’s brilliant, and also to get square. Sorry Rupey.

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