NZ Olympic Team Exposes Inequality
The inequalities within our New Zealand society has been starkly revealed in our Olympic Team according to sports journalist Dylan Cleaver. The team is largely white, with the rugby sevens sneaking in the few brown faces. This is a damning indictment on the lack of inclusiveness in many of our sporting codes and their spending. When one considers how many of our internationally successful athletes are Polynesian then it seems shortsighted to make participation in so many sports dependent on family income.
By 2038 the Super Diversity Stocktake has determined that 51% of New Zealanders will be Maori, Pasifika or Asian and those of European descent will be in the minority. Despite this reality the majority of the funds coming from High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) goes to sports that require considerable expense to participate in: rowing, cycling, sailing, equestrian, triathlon. Even sports like athletics and swimming, that don't have such a heavy equipment outlay, require membership fees and training commitments that are beyond the resources of many families.
A good deal of the funding to support elite sports comes from gambling proceeds. Over $2 billion a year is raked in through gambling machines, the TAB, lotteries and casinos. There is a predominance of gambling machines in poorer communities so that we now have a system where those who come from affluent families are more likely to participate in high level sport and much of the external financial support comes from poor communities.
The sporting inequity begins at school where most children's initial sports experiences occur. There are now clear inequalities in the sporting facilities and opportunities open to students attending low decile schools compared to high decile and private schools.
Wanganui Collegiate is a private secondary school that caters for 450 students and it was given a $3 million dollar bailout when it got into financial difficulty. With taxpayer support it provides a range of sports for its students including: sailing, cycling, triathlons, rowing (it has its own rowing shed) and skiing/snowboarding. The school also provides training grants to support its higher achieving athletes. The majority of the students come from affluent homes and the parents pay substantial fees to ensure small classes and high quality facilities.
The odds are stacked against Maori and Pasifika students to succeed in sport. A large percentage come from low income families and have to live in substandard housing. 15% of Maori children are obese and 30% of Pasifika Children. Most attend low decile schools that struggle to attract the same level of community funding to support sports equipment and facilities that high decile and private schools enjoy. Many Maori and Pasifika families can't afford club fees or the clothing and equipment to participate in sports outside the main codes supported by the school. Transporting their children to different venues is also prohibitive for many.
The Government has made it clear that their focus is on literacy and numeracy in primary schools and increasing pass rates for NCEA Level 2 at secondary level. PE advisors have been sacked and fewer teachers have the time or knowledge to coach sports teams outside school hours as they once did. As assessment demands have grown teachers are reluctant to spend their valuable time on sport and the shrinking number of male teachers in primary schools hasn't helped either.
Experiencing success is important for children's wellbeing and sense of self-worth. By downgrading the value of physical activity and athletic skills in schools we are limiting many children from being able to fully enjoy their education or be recognised for all their abilities. Our children need to have a balanced education and participating in PE and sport provides many useful life skills such as discipline and cooperation. For many students living in difficult circumstances, sporting prowess is a very real way of creating positive opportunities and lifting them out of the cycle of poverty.
When given support our Maori and Pasifika kids have become champions on the world stage and who knows how many potential gold medal winners in sailing, rowing and shot put are sitting in low decile classrooms at this very moment, just waiting to be discovered.
It would be great to see a picture of a future New Zealand Olympic team that truly reflects our wonderfully diverse society.