Off the Wall

I have been waiting with unusual patience for over a week for someone in authority in the NRL/ARL to comment on the latest lobbying effort by the Australian Olympics Committee for massive additional federal government funding.

But I should not have bothered waiting - the games leaders all seem to be in England and France and are therefore almost certainly unconcerned at what a massive injection of funds into Olympic sports might do for future funding for rugby league!

Well they need to get their act together, and soon. In a tightening federal budgetary environment competition for spending on sport, as well as other areas, is going to intensify.

Rugby League, rugby union and Australian Rules do comparatively poorly from government funding.

Rugby league gets $2.4 million annually from the Australian Sports Commission. When compared with what the AFL and the ARU get - just under half a million each - that seems generous, but the real comparison has to be with other sports.

Soccer gets $7.1 million - and that does not include the millions more being poured into the world cup bid.

And how about that great sport promoting fitness - shooting? It gets $1.5 million! Sailing gets $3.8 million, hockey $5.3 million and rowing gets $5.5 million. And the list goes on.

Rugby League needs to stand up and be counted. We don't need to oppose the funding needs of Olympic sports - thought the AOC's ambit claim for something like $100 million a year specifically to prepare for the 2012 London Olympics is a challenge for the government in a tight budgetary environment - but we need to ensure greater recognition, and funding, for what rugby league is doing at the grass roots level.

And there is a reason apart from a fair go for all sports while we have to do so.

The focus over the last year or so has been on what lower returns from poker machine in licensed clubs means for the NRL clubs and their premiership players.

But it is at the juniors leave that the impact is really starting to be felt. Whether we like it or not, our game is more dependent - at all levels - on the profits of licensed leagues clubs than any other sport.

The downturn in poker machine revenue - driven by higher taxes and the impact of smoking bans - is only going to get worse.

I know of many junior clubs that simply could not survive without the contribution their licensed clubs make towards their costs. The income stream they have relied on for years is declining - and it will decline even more.

The only practical ways to replace that revenue stream is for parents to contribute even more to the playing costs of their sons and daughters or for government's to contribute more because of what junior sport does to enhance healthy living and harmonious communities.

Sponsorship? Possible - but the sponsorship dollar spend is under serious pressure already.

Rugby League is thriving in communities under real social and economic pressure. The capacity of parents to contribute even more is limited.

We simply have to go to government with a case for greater funding that will be spent at the grassroots/community levels.

That is why I am disappointed rugby league has remained silent in the aftermath of the Olympic Committee's claim, a claim which, if met, would diminish if not wipe out what might be available for rugby league and other sports.

The AOC is one united, powerful body - headed by John Coates, an influential figure in Australian sport, and world sport.

While our game remains divided, and the focus of far too many administrators on their own jobs and not the true welfare of the game, we will continue to be on the back foot when it comes to getting a fair share of government (taxpayer) funding!