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Is Australia’s Olympic campaign spend of over $350 million well spent?

RioOlympicGoldThe Rio Olympic games were touted as Australia’s Olympic Team’s chance for redemption after a continuous fall in medal tally since the 2000 Sydney Olympics where Aussies won 53 medals, followed by 50 in Athens in 2004, 46 in Beijing in 2008 and 35 in London in 2012.

With over $350 million ploughed into this four-year cycle, fans are questioning whether the underwhelming results represent value for money at the price of over$11.72 million per medal. Eight gold medals put pur nation 10th in the rankings, a far cry from the top-five hopes of the Australian Olympic Committee, or the 37 medals — 13 gold — it forecast in December.

So what’s gone wrong? And could taxpayers’ money have been better spent?

In May, the Australian Sports Institute claimed the nation was on course for a vastly improved performance at these Games, with 21 of 39 programs rated “on track or better”, compared with 15 the previous year. Director Matt Favier insisted our teams were in a strong position to reverse the decline.

This is not a criticism of our athletes and I can only speak for myself in saying we are proud of all of our athletes and the sacrifices they have made for most of their lives to represent our country. Nor is this a criticism of the programs that are run by our state and national sporting bodies, but a query as to whether the money would have been better spent addressing the obesity epidemic in this country. There are two schools of thought at play;

  1. Success at Olympic Games encourages our youth and population in general to participate in sports
  2. The money would be better spent introducing more initiatives to get ‘Australians off the couch/away from their technology’, especially our youth.

We are a sporting nation. Our identity is so greatly tied to our sporting prowess and national pride.

So why have we failed? Hans Westerbeek, Dean of Victoria University’s College of Sport and Exercise Science, says the problem here is one of inflated expectations. Australia’s excellent result at the Sydney Olympic Games was really an anomaly, he believes, with host countries typically performing above their level. “We’re still punching above our weight,” he told news.com.au. “We sit among countries like Jamaica.

“Unfortunately, the reality is we were so successful in Sydney, that continues to be the benchmark against which we measure ourselves.” Barring the Netherlands in ninth place, all of the countries in the top 10 have a far larger population than Australia.

“To make a success of 24 million [people] in Australia is a lot harder than China with 1.3 billion to tap into. Or the US, which clearly outperforms the others, have 320 million to target.” Professor Westerbeek says it is up to our leaders to decide how important sporting achievement on the world stage is to the nation’s wellbeing.

“We haven’t significantly increased funding for high-performance sport, whereas a number of countries have significantly increased funding,” he said.

“It’s not expected that we can continue to deliver at the rate of past Olympics when others are encroaching on the high-performance space and bringing their athletes up. “That comes back to resources. What level of coaches we employ, the technology you can afford, how much money you pour into research and development.

“The competition for medals is getting more intense. Compared with other nations, the money Australia has thrown at the Games starts to look less crazy. Great Britain, for example, has spent $600 million on this Olympic cycle, in contrast to Australia’s over $350 million. High Performance Sport NZ spent $163 million on this cycle. The US spent $1.042 billion on the 2012 Games cycle.”

It will be interesting to watch this space to see what the response to the queries raised in this story by both the sporting bodies and government. Stay tuned for more insights from Sandy Hall, Managing Director of Hall of Fame Marketing Bendigo who is also a Lecturer at LaTrobe University in Sports Management and Marketing.

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