Should taxpayers prop up rugby?

Even many diehard supporters baulked at rugby suggestions taxpayers might help pay to keep the premier players in the All Blacks. The fact the proposal was even made is a sign of the times when the Government is asked to fund this, that and everything.

Few begrudge state funding for basic government. Most also accept taxpayer money can go towards feel-good organisations that are part of this country's social, cultural and sporting fabric. After all, Creative New Zealand and Sport New Zealand each have big budgets.

Creative New Zealand, which funds the arts, in its last annual report received about $16million from the Crown and about $40million from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board.

Sport NZ received about $89million from the Crown and $48million from the Lottery Grants Board. It spends about half on sporting programmes and half on high-performance sport.

Then there is government support of businesses in various ways - corporate welfare as it is sometimes disparagingly called. While there is general acceptance governments can play a role, uneasiness about the Provincial Growth Fund has arisen. Should $10million, for example, be lent for the gondola project at the Whakapapa skifield?

One danger is that worthwhile projects would have gone ahead anyway and the extra money just boosts private profits. Another is that government support props up shaky enterprises that should never be pursued in the first place. In the end, the project fails and with it goes taxpayer funds.

All Black coach Steve Hansen last weekend took advantage of the presence of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Sports Minister Grant Robertson to raise the prospect of government help to retain players. He caught them, and the nation, on a high after the dazzling display from Beauden Barrett. He was also backed by New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew.

Mr Tew subsequently said his organisation projected it would continue to spend $5million to $7million more than it earned. Costs of professional rugby players were rising steadily and the likes of Barrett could easily be lured offshore for money New Zealand could not come close to matching. Barrett has reportedly been offered $3.4million a year to join a French club after next year's Rugby World Cup.

''Frankly, I had the same conversation with the Prime Minister and minister myself in the grandstand,'' Mr Tew said. ''If our team, and our talent is important to New Zealand, then sitting down with the Government at some point and time about what we might do together is useful.''

Mr Tew pointed out various relationships with government agencies like with High Performance Sport NZ, ACC, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. What he did not mention were the millions of taxpayer and ratepayer funding going into stadiums used by rugby.

Eden Park was given $190million to upgrade for the 2011 World Cup, and the proposed covered stadium in Christchurch will receive a huge amount, despite the insurance payout from Lancaster Park and another covered stadium already in the South Island, in Dunedin.

Ms Ardern and Mr Robertson both had the sense to remain coy in their responses. Ms Ardern cited the lack of a formal request and other government rugby support already. She also pointed out that the Government supported large fixtures - the Women's World Cup (New Zealand is among the bidders for 2021) would fit in this category.

Even with extra government support, rugby will continue to struggle to retain its superstars, as well as depth in tiers below that. The general policy of picking only New Zealand-based players may well be jettisoned.

But the top players still have the chance to earn large amounts of money and, at the same time, to create names for themselves as great All Blacks. If an extra million or two is too big a temptation, so be it. Opportunities are created for the next generation of players.

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