Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 02:24 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 02:24 | SYDNEY

This sporting nation


Sam Roggeveen


4 August 2008 17:19

 Australia's reputation, apart from gallantry in times of war, is founded on the performance of our athletes.

If that's true, it's surely a very good reason for Australia to develop other talents. But no, Australian Olympic Committee Chairman John Coates apparently thinks this is a strong argument for further increasing the subsidies we hand to our athletes.

It's striking how similar Coates' appeal is to another piece of rent seeking we discussed on The Interpreter — astronaut Andy Thomas' call for a more ambitious (and expensive) Australian space policy. Both men refer to Australia's image and a sense of self-confidence on the international stage. There's also a common appeal to the fear of being left behind. Needless to say, by that logic you could justify endless government subsidies for infinite special interests. How many medals would satisfy Mr Coates? At what point would he say that our international reputation is high enough?

Still, I suspect there's a grain of truth to what Coates says about the importance of sport in how we view ourselves on the world stage. Strange, then, that we seem satisfied with success in sports (cricket, both rugby codes, netball) that the world cares relatively little about. The Olympics might be seen as the exception, yet that event is made up of individual sports that barely raise anyone's interest except once every four years (tandem diving, anyone?).

Of course, when it comes to the world's biggest sport, Australia is no more than a middle power.