Until the late 20th century New Zealand governments supported elite sport on an ad-hoc basis, and particularly to gain political advantage. Premier Richard Seddon arranged funding for the triumphant All Blacks to return home via North America in 1906. Like many later politicians, he was on hand to welcome the successful team home. Olympic champion Jack Lovelock toured New Zealand as a guest of the government after his gold medal win at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Ministry of Recreation and Sport
In 1971 athletics coach Arthur Lydiard advocated the creation of a ministry of sport that would support the training of elite sportspeople. The Ministry of Recreation and Sport was set up in 1973. Although the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games received significant public funding, the ministry was not what Lydiard envisaged, and sports bodies expressed frustration at the lack of funding it provided them with.
New Zealand Sports Foundation
The private sector stepped into the breach. A New Zealand Sports Foundation to support elite sport was set up by a group of businesspeople in 1978. The government initially promised a $100,000 subsidy. The foundation was soon receiving increasing assistance from the Lottery Grants Board.
In 1995, following the Department of Internal Affairs’ Winning Way report on elite sport in New Zealand, the National government gave the first direct funding ($4.6 million) for high-performance sport. It was focused on the 2000 Olympic Games. The Sports Foundation distributed this along with private and lottery funds.
From 2000 services to elite athletes were delivered through New Zealand Academy of Sport centres in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.
Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC)
With the creation of SPARC in 2003 there was a growing sense that New Zealand was involved in a global sports race in which success would bring international prestige and inspire local pride. There was a dramatic increase in direct funding from government, primarily for elite sport.
In 2001/2, $6.2 million came from the Crown. With the enthusiastic support of two ministers of sport (Trevor Mallard for the Labour government and Murray McCully for the National government), Crown funding for Vote Sport and Recreation rose to $81.7 million by 2012/13. Almost three-quarters of this went to elite sport, although when funding from Lotto was added, the total spending was split about evenly between elite and community sport.
From 2006 a more targeted approach to funding was taken. This enabled larger grants for significant campaigns, especially the Olympics. Individual athletes were now eligible for ‘performance enhancement grants’ that enabled some to train full-time. Some funding came with conditions, such as reform of a sport’s high-level coaching or administration.
High Performance Sport New Zealand
The focus on elite sport was reinforced when High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) was established within Sport New Zealand in 2011. High-performance funding was geared to the Olympic cycle. For the first time individuals were funded directly, with golfer Lydia Ko receiving $230,000 over two years.
The academies were absorbed into HPSNZ along with Sport New Zealand’s high-performance business unit.
In 2012/13 Sport New Zealand budgeted to spend $66.3 million, along with the long-standing Prime Minister’s Scholarship Programme ($4.25 million) for high-performing athletes and coaches.
In total high-performance funding was 53% of the agency’s spending.
The Olympic goal
In 2012 the most generously funded sports for the four-year build-up to the Rio Olympics of 2016 were rowing ($18.4 million), cycling ($15.6 million) and yachting ($11.2 million). Netball was the best-funded non-Olympic sport ($4.8 million). Minimum targets of 14 Olympic medals in 2016 (18 were won) and 16 in 2020 were set.
During these years New Zealand governments also put time and money into major sporting events. An Inter-agency Events Group was established in 2001 to provide a coordinated government response to major events like the America’s Cup.
Over the next decade the biggest investment was in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and an office was established to coordinate government activity around it. The government put $26 million towards the event and associated activities, including a volunteer programme, a festival and some major cultural events. With local government it purchased and built The Cloud, an events centre and ‘fan zone’ on Queen’s Wharf in Auckland.
The government has contributed to new sporting facilities. For the Rugby World Cup it allocated $190 million to the redevelopment of Auckland’s Eden Park. Sport New Zealand also had a capital fund for improving sporting facilities. In 2012, for example, it funded a cycling centre of excellence in Cambridge and the National Ocean Water Sports Centre in Takapuna, Auckland.