Sport / Losing takes the Edge out of sport

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MELISSA Breen may not be the favourite for the 100 metres gold medal in Rio and, as such, has struggled to secure backing under the Winning Edge program.

The program’s aim is to ensure potential gold medalists are given as much support as possible by financially rewarding sports for success and those who fail receive less funding.

Tim Gavel
Tim Gavel.

It becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy; sportspeople and sports that don’t win gold battle to secure adequate funding and, therefore, struggle to achieve success. Those who win gold get stronger with more funding and more support.

Without the necessary funding it’s considerably harder for second and third-tier sports in particular by not getting access to key sponsorship markets, which are more accessible to sports with a higher profile based on their success.

Winning Edge was established after the “failed” London Olympics where Australia won only eight gold medals (including Jared Tallent, who is to be awarded his gold post-London).

The worry I have is that it consigns struggling sports to years of hardship because they won’t achieve the results needed for increased financial support.

Winning Edge has driven sports to funnel their resources into winning gold at the expense of many within the sport.

The men’s and women’s rowing eights are a case in point. They didn’t qualify through the world titles, support for the crews was reduced and they faced an uphill battle to qualify for the Olympics. It was the prophecy I alluded to earlier. 

In the case of an aspirational athlete, such as Mel Breen, she struggled to get financial backing under Winning Edge because it was deemed that she wasn’t going to win a medal in Rio and hadn’t recorded an A qualifier in the 100 metres track up until she achieved that goal in Townsville. 

How are these so-called aspirational athletes ever going to achieve if they don’t receive the necessary government funding?

It could be argued that it is harder to win a gold medal in the 100 metres on the track than it is, for example, in a swimming relay. Australia has a history of achievement in the pool and a strong structure to support it.

To simply achieve the A qualifier in the 100 metres for track and field should be weighted in such a way that it recognises that it is a tougher arena, due to the vast number of countries that participate at the Olympic level in the sport also possessing a history of gold-medal success.

But taking the swimming example even further, I have argued that under Winning Edge it would be hard to envisage another Duncan Armstrong swimming moment.

In the lead up to the 1988 Olympics, Armstrong wasn’t expected to make the semi-finals let alone win. Under Winning Edge, because of his low world ranking, he would have struggled to secure financial support before the Olympics.

As a nation, we need to ask ourselves are we simply about winning pre-ordained gold medals or do we genuinely rejoice in the possibility of the unexpected, such as Armstrong offered us in Seoul.

And, more broadly, do we consider sport to be just about gold medals or do we see it as fulfilling a much broader agenda in our society? Don’t we rejoice in the determination of every athlete who has worked hard for many years to represent our country at the level that is the pinnacle of sporting achievement, regardless of their chosen sport?

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

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