challenging attitudes toward tax-payer funded sport

Sport is supposed to be fun, even sport at the highest level.

Sport is supposed to be fun, even sport at the highest level.

With the Winter Olympics now finished I thought I would turn my attention to something that seems to get brought up (at least it New Zealand) at the end of every Olympic cycle: whether the tax payers are getting their money’s worth for the investment into athletes. Sochi saw New Zealand send it’s largest ever contingent to a Winter Games with fifteen competitors competing across five sports. Unfortunately we failed to win a medal, with Jossi Wells’ fourth being our highest finisher. This lack of return along with the perceived poor attitudes of some athletes saw the the even labelled in some quarters as ‘an expensive ski holiday’. So I thought I would take it upon myself to look into just how much money was spent by the tax payers on Sochi, and then argue why spending tax payer dollars on the Winter Olympics shouldn’t bother you, even if you think it’s a waste of money. First some figures:

  • The total New Zealand tax revenue for 2012/2013 was $58.7billion dollars.
  • The total High Performance Sport New Zealand (HSPNZ) budget for 2013 was $60million, that works out to 0.1022147% of the years tax revenue.
  • The median individual income from salary and wages in New Zealand for 2013 was $43,888, tax paid on this income assuming no tax refund was claimed was $6,700.40. Making the median individual contribution to HPSNZ $6.85.
  • Winter Olympic funding in 2013 was $1.815million (dropping to $1.7million in 2014). So Winter Olympic funding was 0.003091993% of tax revenue in 2013. An individual earning the median income in New Zealand in 2013 contributed $0.21 to the winter olympics campaign.

At only 21 cents for the entertainment and emotions I got to experience watching the Winter Olympics I feel like I got my money’s worth. This is likely where some people may start to complain that this is still much and that they shouldn’t have to shoulder such a  burden for something they didn’t watch and don’t care about, so this is where I will argue that this shouldn’t be a problem. First off my argument makes the important assumption that you are OK with some part of your taxes being spent somewhat frivolously. When I say frivolously I mean things like sports, cultural events, the arts, etc. If you feel that all our taxes should be spent on roads and helping the poor then I salute you and I’m sorry about enjoying the fruits of your labour that you so despise. But to those who don’t mind some small portion of their taxes being spent on some joyful yet ultimately quite frivolous pursuit, but think Winter Olympic funding was an utter waste of money I ask you to do the following: imagine what frivolous pursuit you would rather have increased funding for. OK, now I have a confession to make: whatever you are imagining, I hate. I think it’s an waste of money and don’t want any of my taxes going towards it. Whatever it is, it’s rubbish.

It's also possible to perform well without winning anything.

It’s also possible to perform well without winning anything.

Hmmm, this is awkward you want to fund your thing that I think is a waste of money, and I want to fund the Winter Olympics which you think is a waste of money, it seems neither of us can be happy. So how about we make a deal? You can stop contributing any of your taxes towards our budding Winter Olympians, and I’ll stop contributing any of my taxes towards that thing you were imagining. Sound good? Well it gets better. Not only do you get to stop funding the Winter Olympians but you can double your own contribution towards whatever thing it was that you wanted to fund but I didn’t, and in return I’ll double my contribution to the Winter Olympics program to a whopping 42 cents a year. Everybody wins! Sure nothing actually changes, everything still gets funded just the same, but if you look at it from this perspective you’re not wasting your taxes on anything you don’t want to and nor am I.

The beauty of it is that it doesn’t just work for the Winter Olympics it works for anything you don’t want your taxes to fund, because whatever it is I assure you there is someone out there who does want to fund it but doesn’t want to fund something you hold dare and enjoy. There is one flaw in my ingenious solution, and that is that these things can be empirically measured. It’s possible to find out how may people want to fund the Winter Olympics and how many people want to fund whatever it is you would rather fund. If this were to happen then one of us may be proven wrong. But now that I mention it we do make these measurements, in fact we’re having such a measurement in September, it’s called an election. The fact that in the last election no one ran a campaign where one on the pillars was “NO WINTER OLYMPIC FUNDING!” seems to imply that enough people support 21 cents a year going to help our Winter Olympians, or at the very least most people are indifferent about it, that we shouldn’t get up in arms about it. We should enjoy it, or whatever it is that your taxes pay for that you want to enjoy.


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