Can SA spend its way to gold?

Our 131 Olympic athletes collectively brought back five ounces of silver from Beijing. That’s worth R7 849 at the current silver price.

It is not as though we do not spend big on sport in South Africa. Sponsorship from private companies on rugby, soccer and cricket alone, tops R3-billion a year.
The state-owned Lotto budgets to spend almost R700-million on sport each year.

But a number of sports organisations do not meet the Lotto’s criteria, such as the requirement that they supply financials for two years, so actual disbursements are lower, at about R500-million, according to evidence presented to parliamentarians.

The R500-million was split this year between 50 sporting codes, 20 of which are Olympic sports. These 20 codes shared R53-million, with Sascoc, the body which runs the Olympics in South Africa, getting R28-million, also from the Lotto.

The R53-million is more or less half the R113-million Australia says it costs to get an Olympic gold medal. With Australia’s final tally sitting at 14 golds this amounts to more than R1,5-billion spent on Olympic achievement.

According to Sascoc the R28,9-million it gets goes to projects such as the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games and the Commonwealth Youth Games. It also receives R9,1-million from sport and recreation and about R4-million from the Internaional Olympic Committee. It says that about 20% from all projects is recovered for admin costs.

According to UKSport, the British government’s sports agency, the country spent £235-million on the summer Olympic sports in the run-up to Beijing.

This is about R3,4-billion on Olympiad sports alone. Their total medal count in effect cost the Brits about R63,8-million each. And this is not taking into account corporate sponsorships for the various teams and athletes.

But in South Africa the picture is a little bleaker, particularly for the types of sports, or sporting codes, that are not as popular as the big three—football, rugby and cricket. Our Olympic sporting codes rely chiefly on government sponsorship and donor funding to survive.

Along with the Lotto money the sports and recreation department puts in about another R103-million through sport-support services.

In total, spending comes to about R186-million for all Olympic sporting codes. Meanwhile, Britain spent about R195-million on canoeing alone.

Our sole silver medal, thanks to gutsy long jumper Khotso Mokoena, perhaps indicates the need for a re-evaluation of sports spending in the country. If all non-sponsored spending was considered, South Africa paid about R157-million for Mokoena’s silver.

Admittedly Britain and Australia are both countries with far more resources available to them. But in Britain’s case in particular, increased spending on summer Olympic sports went hand in hand with an increase in medals.

For the Beijing games British spending increased to £235-million from £70-million for the Athens Olympiad. Their medal tally jumped from 30 to 47 and their gold medal tally leapt from 9 to 19. Sponsorship without doubt plays a big role in how sports are supported.

According to BMI Sport Info, an independent sport and sponsorship market research company, 59% of all sponsorship spend in 2007 went to football, rugby and cricket.

According to David Sidenberg, head of strategic consulting and rights structuring at BMI, this disproportionate spend is despite the breadth of our sporting industry, which includes about 80 different codes and institutions such as schools, universities, technicons and umbrella sporting bodies.

Sidenberg says that “other than kit and perhaps a few other minor supplier deals, this Olympics Sascoc was not able to retain or procure any commercial sponsors for Team South Africa”. Sidenberg also says that South Africa’s top codes receive the majority of the television coverage allotted to sport.

The distribution of Lotto money and access to airtime is famously problematic. Swimming South Africa (SSA) is one example of a code that has battled to access its Lotto money.

“SSA is operating on a budget for this financial year [2008/09] assuming no income from the Lotteries Board, in expectation that they may only make allocations too late for our financial year,” says Shaun Adriaanse, chief executive of Swimming South Africa.

SSA is fortunate to have the ongoing support of chief sponsor Telkom, but the lottery money still accounted for 26% of the organisations total income in 2007/08.

On the issue of airtime Adriaanse says: “Broadcasters should be more proactive in assisting federations to achieve more exposure on their platforms. For example, our federation finds that during an Olympic year there is a large focus on athletics and swimming, but for the next three years we battle to get any airtime.

“There are a number of reasons why Team South Africa did not bring home a bag full of medals—and funding structures for sport would probably be one of them,” he says.

“Sports federations need longer-term commitment from funders,” he says. “Funders should make a four-year commitment based on the Olympic cycle. This means federations can plan well in advance and know what resources they have access to.”

Last week the Mail & Guardian reported that a re-examination of the funding structures for Olympics sporting codes is in the pipeline for South Africa. With sports such as Korfball, a non-Olympic sport, competing for the same funding as Olympic codes such as canoeing, this is perhaps overdue.

According to Sascoc president Moss Mashishi the body will convene a stakeholder forum when it gets back from the Paralympic Games.

“This forum will conduct a proper analysis of Team South Africa’s performance in Beijing and will deal with key issues such as funding, school sport, academies and talent identification,” he says.

This thinking would be in line with programmes in countries such as Kenya and Jamaica that pour money into their strongest codes—sprints and middle to long-distance events respectively.

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