04/07/2011 - On Friday I was fortunate to act as MC for the ILT Southland Sports Awards, as we recognised the outstanding efforts of our sporting achievers.
When you bundle together the premier individual and team performances from throughout the year, it shows what this province of ours achieves year after year, often against better resourced and more highly fancied opponents.
We relived some of last year's most special moments, watching footage of Nathan Cohen powering home to win World Championship gold, Aaron Barclay holding the finishing tape aloft at the Youth Olympics, the Stags defending the Ranfurly Shield so proudly and born and bred southerners having Commonwealth medals draped around their necks.
The burning question is can we keep that up?
Around the world right now, the on-going funding of sport is in the headlines. In the United States the NFL and NBA are in simultaneous player lock-outs as team owners and player representatives negotiate terms in an attempt to fix a flawed system.
The NBA has just completed one of its most successful seasons ever.
Attendance numbers, television audiences, merchandise sales and general interest are all up, yet 22 of the 30 teams will lose money - a combined total of $300 million dollars. The good news is that's an improvement on the last two seasons' deficit.
Now like most things in the US, the scale of the issue is on another planet to ours, but the principle appears the same. Those sports are trying to sustain a broken model. That's hard enough in good times let alone in the challenging revenue environment we now operate in. The major difference is that in the US billionaire owners fund these deficits. In New Zealand the red ink falls to the sport and ultimately back to those who fund the sport - in most Southland cases, our community funders.
There are two issues. One is franchise sport, vital as our shop window to the sporting nation. The other is regional sport which, as Friday showed, also does an outstanding job of generating huge success. While they are two very different scenarios with two very different challenges, they are inextricably linked.
In round numbers $10 million dollars is invested in sport in Southland each year and the pot is getting no deeper. Yet for some reason sports' only strategy (and we're all guilty of this) is to go knocking on the same doors for more money. We have been incredibly fortunate to have funders who have in the past generally answered the call positively. But that simply can't continue.
Is sport using the current investment as efficiently as it can? If we started with a blank sheet would it look like how we operate today?
The sport sector must take ownership of this issue, otherwise, quite rightly, an end result will be imposed on us and we'll be told to make it work somehow. That will bring winners and losers and we will only have ourselves to blame.
Now is a time for real leadership, otherwise it's my belief the performances we celebrated on Friday night may become fewer and farther between. I think we all agree that would be a massive tragedy.
Nick Jeffrey is Chief Executive of Cycling Southland