Peter Miskimmin made no bones about it: he was torn.
As chief of Sport New Zealand, the former hockey Olympian, businessman, and sometime coach has been a firm proponent of the need for sports clubs in his country to pool resources in light of societal changes and declining memberships. Mergers were another pill he knew were needed, no matter how hard they might be to swallow.
Among those were his beloved Hutt Hockey Club which joined forces with Eastern Hutt a few months to ago to form Hutt United. The DNA of Miskimmin’s entire family had been embedded in the old entity. A lifetime member, he admitted that he was walking emotionally away from his past but for a good reason.
“We need to keep looking forward,” he told the ‘Stuff’ website earlier this year, “this is not about today, this is about the next 10, 15, 20 years.”
Tough decisions are a daily diet for anyone of Miskimmin’s ilk. He admitted nine years ago that the toughest part of his job was not having enough money to go around for everyone and the need to make some very tough phone calls and hold frank conversations with affected organisations.
Yet few people in his position seem to have done a better job at building for the future.
Miskimmin will be the keynote speaker at the annual Federation of Irish Sport conference to be held in Trinity College next Thursday. His colleague Geoff Barry, head of the country’s Community Sport programme, will join him under the theme of: “Sport: The New Zealand Way. Grassroots to Greats. What can Ireland learn?”
Short answer? Quite a lot, probably.
New Zealand has a population of just under 4.8 million and they have won 49 medals at the Summer Olympic Games this millennium. The Republic of Ireland’s population is 4.75 — with the island of Ireland’s coming in at 6.6 — and our medal haul stretching back to the 2000 Games in Sydney is 12.
It’s no wonder then that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar mentioned the Kiwis and their 18 medals in Rio in 2016 in his recent manifesto for sport and his stated desire to double the budget for Irish sport in the coming years will be absolutely essential if results here — at elite level and at grassroots — are to mirror those of our Antipodean friends.
A few basic figures tell us as much.
In 2018, €7m will be invested directly into High Performance Funding for 21 National Governing Bodies in Ireland.
In December of 2016, New Zealand announced a NZ$35m (€20m) core investment programme for the following year. Over $250m (€147m) will be invested into their high-performance system through the four-year Tokyo cycle alone.
But it’s not just about money.
Norway, for instance, is another model which has caught the eye of officials here.
Their sports federation has an annual budget of roughly €15.6m and yet they won four bronze medals at the Rio Games two years ago and finished top of the medal table at the Winter Games in PyeongChang last February.
In Norway, they don’t let kids play sports competitively until they turn 13, they have 93% of their youth playing sports of some kind or another and they espouse a ‘No Assholes’ type of culture which permeates all the way up from kindergarten kickabouts to Olympic stars who tend to medal across a broad spectrum of events.
New Zealand tend to think differently, too.
“One thing New Zealand have done is they haven’t just talent ID’d the athletes,” the Federation of Irish Sport’s CEO Mary O’Connor told the Irish Examiner this week.
“They have done the same with coaches and administrators and other areas to support their career pathways.”
In 2016 and 2017, New Zealand invested just north of $3.8m in high-performance athletes, coaches, officials and support personnel development via scholarships with the singular purpose of allowing individuals to pursue educational or professional qualifications while continuing in sport.
A holistic approach that makes an abundance of sense.
Not every system can cross international boundaries but sound principles don’t need passports to travel. “Sport is sport, and structures evolve,” said O’Connor who made the point that Miskimmin and Barry will likely be looking to pocket some pointers from the Irish model while they’re here, too.
The hope is that the pair will be given face-time with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, officials from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Sport Ireland and
representatives from the Olympic Council of Ireland during their five-day stay.
O’Connor stresses that the conference itself is an opportunity to be grasped by people engaged in grassroots sport as well as their peers from the elite strata. Miskimmin may have presided over New Zealand’s most successful Olympic period this last three Summer Games but they have orchestrated a sea change in community sport policy as well.
In a nutshell, they’ve shifted focus from competitive sports to a participation model.
“I lead an organisation and sector whose aim is to make people fitter and lead healthier lives and hopefully stay in sport for life,” Miskimmin told the New Zealand Herald back in 2009 when he was one year into the role as CEO.
As with everything in life: if it sounds that simple then chances are it’s not.
Miskimmin’s take will be informative.
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