by JAMILA RIZVI
My dad is sports mad. I know, I know, so is every other Australian bloke. But for my wonderful father, sport plays a role in his life and represents a value in his world, like it does for nobody else I know.
Remember that movie ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’? The Greek father had this hysterical belief that any illness could be cured with Windex. Cut finger? Bruised forearm? Mosquito bite? Put some Windex on it. Well my dad is like that when it comes to sport.
As a kid, no matter what was wrong in life – my dad’s theory was that it could be fixed through physical activity. If I were down in the dumps and crying because a boy at school had broken my heart, he would suggest a game of tennis. If I had the flu, I would be invited for ‘a quick hit at the driving range’, when all I really wanted was some decent Oprah time on the couch.
As a teenager, one of my close friends suffered from anorexia and when mum and I were having a teary discussion about her illness one night, my dad yelled from the other room (where he was watching the AFL) “she should join your netball team, Jamila”.
Oh dad, she was 39kg. She could barely walk, let alone play netball.
So sport has always been in my blood: a love of competition, the joy of being a spectator and supporter and an appreciation for those who reach the very pinnacle of their game. And when the talk inevitably turns every four years, from our nation’s achievements at the Olympics to the money our Government spends on our athletes, I get a bit tetchy.
These are the facts that the naysayers will put on the table: That we spend $588 million on Olympic sport over each four year cycle. So far, we’ve won 7 gold medals at the London 2012 Games – that’s close to $85 million per gold medal. Even if Australia were performing in excess of what was originally expected and bringing home 10+ gold medals – we’d still be looking at $50 million for every gold.
But you know what? You can’t measure the benefit of our Olympic success in dollar terms alone. And just because the benefit of investing in sport is hard to measure or quantify, doesn’t mean that benefit isn’t there.
I truly believe that our country should invest in sport and that we should invest in a big way. Government money should be spent for the benefit of the public who pay taxes and sport has a multifaceted and undeniable public benefit.
Investing in elite sport promotes a healthier lifestyle for all of us and has flow on preventative health benefits. At the community level, getting kids involved in sport early, helps them to develop a love of physical activity that can last a lifetime. And with more and more Australians becoming overweight or obese, an investment in sport now can decrease heath care costs in the future.
When we have sporting heroes to look up to, whether those heroes are Olympians or other elite athletes, it inspires us to be more physical in our own lives. Who doesn’t get inspired to dig out an old tennis racquet and have a hit at the local school courts during the Australian Open? You find yourself slowing down outside cycling shops to inspect the price tag on a fancy bike, during the Tour de France each year. And just between you and me, I may have done some hyper-excited jumps over rocks and poles and small dogs during my morning run today - in tribute to Sally Pearson.
Even harder to quantify, are the non-physical benefits of watching our champions compete for gold – let’s call it the ‘inspiration factor’. Our Olympians push to the very limits of physical human ability. They show us that what we thought was impossible is actually possible and there are life lessons that come from that.
That kid who is watching Anna Meares race to gold on the telly in the wee hours of yesterday morning, sees her achieve something great but also learns the lesson that hard work, commitment and determination do pay off in the end. That same kid will also watch Lauren Mitchell miss out on a medal due to one tiny error but learns that being the best isn’t everything and that showing up and giving something a go is commendable in and of itself.
As kids of sport-loving parents, playing netball and hockey on the weekends were where my sister and I learned early lessons in leadership and that winning is so much more fun when you get to share it with your team. We learned how to succeed, how to win but even more importantly, we learned how to lose – and to lose with grace.
I know that there are those who argue that as Australians, we focus too much on sport and that we place a higher value on swimming 100m really, really fast than we do on discovering the cure for a terrible disease or composing a beautiful symphony. But you know what? That argument is just plain bogus.
Valuing sport is not about valuing academic or artistic or any other kind of human achievement any less. Of course those achievements are noteworthy and deserving of praise but let’s talk about recognising those achievements more, instead of recognising the achievements of our sporting heroes less.
We should invest in sport because of what those gold medals (and silver and bronze!) do for our national psyche. We are a nation of sports lovers and the joy and the adrenalin that comes from watching a hard fought Aussie victory at the Olympics, or scoring a goal at a social soccer game on the weekend, or watching our AFL team win the premiership, while impossible to quantify, contributes to our national spirit and pride.
There are only a few days left of these Olympics and it’s another 4 years before we get this feeling again. So let’s stop the bitching and the moaning. Let’s stop complaining about how well or badly our athletes perform and questioning whether our investment in gold was ‘worth it’. Let’s stop with the constant moan of ‘that money could be better spent’ because it’s the oldest complaint in the book.
Instead, let’s do our athletes’ achievements justice. Because no matter how many gold medals they win, their efforts over the last four years, to get to where they are – are the same. Let’s get up early and cheer them on. Let’s make sure our kids see Australia win and are proud of that success. And let’s make sure they see Australia lose and still be proud of how we played the game.
And let’s get a little bit inspired and get out and play some sport this weekend – even if it’s just coin footy at the pub. You should do that even if you’ve got the sniffles. My dad would tell you that a good hit of the ball beats a dose of Codral any day.
Is Australia’s financial investment in sport ‘worth it’?