Kiwi surfing sensation Paige Hareb is close to cracking it on the World Tour. Currently 10th in the world, the 22 year old is in the midst of a dilemma.
Her money is running out. She receives nothing from Sport NZ, after receiving a $15,000 grant for a couple of years.
Needing to raise $30,000 to compete this year, she turned to sportfunder.com, a crowd-sourcing funding website.
As she says, “I’m going to need this money to help pay for my 2013 World Tour airfares to and from Australia, Brazil, Europe, USA and possibly South Africa, plus my accommodation expenses in each place.”
As of the weekend, she had raised nearly $5,000 – nowhere near her target, but a start.
It did get me thinking, though. Sport NZ (the fomer SPARC) is allocating $1.75 million to rugby sevens for 2013 alone to help prepare teams for the Rio Olympics.
Now last time I looked, sevens didn’t seem to need much government funding to succeed. Maybe the women’s team needs a bit of help, but surely whipping $30,000 out of that $1.75 million wouldn’t hurt?
Here’s the kicker though. Sport NZ is blindly focused on Olympic gold medals.
Surfing isn’t an Olympic sport – though it could easily arguably take over from say dressage, which is possibly the only ‘sport’ (ahem) sillier than race walking.
Sport NZ therefore isn’t interested that we have a woman in the top 10 in the world – because there’s no golden lustre attached to her winning the World Tour.
Paige won $48,000 over seven events on the World Tour last year – but when you take into account the international travel and associated costs, it quickly gets eaten up.
She isn’t the only one. We have numerous athletes ranked in the top 10 in the world in sports that don’t feature at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, so they either have to essentially promise their first-born child to Sport NZ to get a pitiful amount of money, or they just miss out altogether.
It’s not fair. As a former (very bad and shark averse) surfie, I can vouch for how tough the sport is. You require stamina, strength, speed, and a not inconsiderable amount of brains to be good at it (the brains bit may be why I failed).
It’s unforgiving. In rugby sevens you can miss a tackle and someone else can make it. In surfing, miss a move, a wave, or have a ride close out on you before you make a scoring play, and you’re out.
Being in the top 10 women in the world is not a licence to make money. But it is an enormous achievement, and one that Hareb wants very little assistance – in the greater government sports funding scheme of things – to continue her success.
The hypocrisy of it is that if she did displace the sensational Stephanie Gilmour and become world champion, Sport NZ would want to be all over her like a cheap suit.
She won’t need their help then. But she does need it now. Perhaps Sport NZ needs to rethink their funding rules and break the shackles of Olympic gold.
Sport success doesn’t just matter every four years. And sevens won’t miss $30,000.