Balance required in funding Olympic athletes, Bond says

Hamish Bond
Double rowing gold medallist Hamish Bond remained at the top of his game as long as he did because the funding was in place to help keep him there.

Whip that income away and you might have snuffed out one of rowing’s most dominant partnerships.

Bond and Eric Murray combined to win back-to-back gold medals for New Zealand in the men’s coxless pair in 2012 and 2016.

They were unbeaten in 69 consecutive races. It is a wonderful achievement that was in part powered by the taxpayers.

They were benefactors of a huge increase in funding for high-performance sport that has its origin in the disappointing campaign at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Tuesday will mark 20 years since those Games began.

New Zealand’s modest haul of four medals triggered a rethink by sport administrators.

The cost of winning gold had gone up and the country was happy to pay.

The $10million invested in the Sydney Games more than tripled by the time the New Zealand team reached Athens in 2004.

And during the four-year cycle leading into Rio (2016), High Performance Sport New Zealand dished out the best part of $160million.

That is peanuts compared to the expected $250million bill for Tokyo.

Bond is not oblivious to the funding debate. Despite having benefited from the system, he has a measured view.

"You certainly can’t argue that there hasn’t been a correlation between the increase in funding and the results at the Olympics.

"People take pride in Olympic performance and it is part of the fabric of our national identity," he said, but added you needed to get the balance right.

"Sport operates best as a sort of pyramid with your high performance at the top. But if you don’t have that strong base below then your top gets a bit wobbly and is likely to come undone.

"There are a lot of demands on the taxpayer’s purse and even more so now, with the response to Covid. It is harder to make the call as to where the dollar is best spent.

"But I could certainly say had the resources not been put into sport then I don’t think we would have had the longevity."

Bond said every athlete had "to go through that phase of scraping to make it". But that is not viable in the long term.

"To some degree it has become an arms race. It is very hard to be competitive in most Olympic sports unless you are a quasi fulltime athlete."

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