Australia’s winter Olympics campaign cost Australian taxpayers more than $16 million, despite falling well short of medal expectations.
In the four-year lead-up to the Olympics, the Australian Institute of Sport gave just over $16.54 million in government funds to sports vying for success in Pyeongchang.
Ultimately, the Australian Olympic Team failed to reach their expectation of a top-15 spot in the medal tally, winning just three medals – at an average cost of $5.51 million.
Professor of economics at Deakin University Pasquale Sgro argued those funds would have been better spent in areas such as health and education.
“I think people get pleasure out of looking at other people participating in sport, they get an ego boost from us winning medals. Some people argue that it’s a sign of maturity of a country that we can send a good team or send a number of people to these Olympic Winter Games.” Professor Sgro said.
This is a bit self-indulgent.”
The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) confirmed it poured $11.59 million of taxpayer funds into the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia and $3.31 million into Ski & Snowboard Australia – two peak national bodies that manage various winter sports – over the four years from 2014/15 to 2017/18.
Direct cash grants totalling $1.64 million were afforded to high-performance athletes to assist their training and competitive performances at the winter games, according to the AIS.
Despite this, Australia stands at number 22 on the medal tally after Matt Graham and Jarryd Hughes won silver in the men’s moguls and men’s snowboard cross respectively, and Scotty James claimed bronze in the men’s halfpipe.
Australia has never won more than three medals at a winter Olympics.
But the Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport 2017, commissioned by the Australian Sports Commission, estimates every dollar spent on sport returns seven dollars of total benefits to Australia.
Defending the spend, CEO of Ski and Snowboard Australia Michael Kennedy said winter sports were significantly underfunded relative to summer Olympic sports.
The AIS injected $340 million of government funds into the four-year cycle leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio – more than 20 times the amount invested into the 2018 winter games in Pyeongchang.
Swimming alone received $38 million in taxpayer dollars. (Australia took 422 athletes to Rio and 51 to Pyeongchang.)
That outlay resulted in 29 medals: eight gold, 11 silver and 10 bronze. The average cost per medal? Around $11.7 million.
Mr Kennedy said: “There are more medals [up for grabs] than ever before at winter sports because there have been so many new events added over the last Olympic cycle.
“Our funding relatively hasn’t allowed us to embrace a lot of the new sports to the level that would see us be world class,” he said.
Ski and Snowboard Australia accounted for 37 out of the 51 athletes in the Australian team, and was responsible for managing 13 different ski and snowboard disciplines, Mr Kennedy said.
The majority of our cost is in coaching, supporting athletes and program expenses.”
Professor Sgro cited an argument that participation alone should be enough and athletes shouldn’t be so preoccupied with winning. But he disagrees.
“That may be true for the Olympians and some sport-loving members of the population, but since we all, as taxpayers, are paying the money, what is the benefit that we are all getting?
“Participating is really not enough. It doesn’t justify the money.”
Mr Kennedy said success should not be measured simply by the number of Olympic medals attained.
“There are some things that go beyond pure medals,” Mr Kennedy said.
“The way they’ve conducted themselves as role models, their courage and humility, their graciousness in defeat, their resilience in dealing with injuries – they’re great motivating stories.
“You don’t get to see that unless it’s on this stage.”
Australian Sports Commission CEO Kate Palmer said sport was a valuable investment in Australia’s national health and education.
“For every athlete who represents Australia at an Olympic or Paralympic Games, there are untold thousands of kids who have dreamed or are now dreaming of representing Australia or just giving sport a go. It sets so many people on a path to a healthy and active lifestyle.
The AIS is helping the federal government develop a National Sport Plan, to be delivered in 2018 which will seek to understand Australia’s expectations of the sports sector, including its high-performance goals.
“We’re proud of this team, they’ve delivered three medals which is the equal of Sochi 2014. But success isn’t measured by a medal tally alone,” Ms Palmer said.