An example of massive government support for elite sport – Suncorp Stadium which cost nearly $300 million to upgrade in the early 2000s.
The drugs scandal that has engulfed the Gold Coast Titans raises a question about government support for elite sport, such as the Queensland Government’s commitment to provide $100 million for a Townsville Super Stadium, as a perceptive reader of this blog pointed out to me the other day. Presumably one of the major justifications for government support for elite sports, as opposed to support for amateur sports through grants to local clubs, is that elite sport players are role models for young people and that their sporting exploits encourage young people to participate in sport, improving public health and reducing health costs in the long-run.
The poor off-field behaviour of many elite sports people, however, suggests they are often poor role models. And it doesn’t appear that elite sports people, who are more prominent than ever in the community, promote participation in sport, with participation rates in organised sports having remained static or declined over the 2000s according to a CSIRO study. And it’s well known that rates of obesity and overweight have increased over the last couple of decades, suggesting that people aren’t participating in sports as regularly or vigorously as they once did. The Monash Obesity and Diabetes Institute notes that the prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the last 20 years (see Obesity in Australia facts and figures).
So the support of successive governments for elite sports appears to have failed what must be one of its major objectives: to encourage participation in sport and improve public health. Unfortunately, much of the assistance to sport is poorly targeted, as is the case for the Townsville Super Stadium which appears unworthy of public support given Townsville already has a football stadium, and surely there are better uses for $100 million in the city?
Governments across Australia should urgently review levels of assistance they provide to elite sports. The assistance doesn’t appear to be achieving any valuable public policy objectives, and the money would be better spent improving health and education services. Finally, several of the elite sporting organising bodies such as the NRL do very well out of TV rights and, if a new stadium is required for the good of the sport, then they should pay for it.