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New Zealand Academy of Sport Launch

29 August 00 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:12.30 pm Tuesday 29 August 2000

New Zealand Academy of Sport Launch

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.

In the modern sporting era, it is not easy to succeed on the world stage. To get to the top in international sport takes a lot of talent, guts, commitment and access to the best support services and facilities.

New Zealand is one of the smallest nations on the sporting circuit. Our athletes face tough competition from better-funded and better-resourced athletes every week. Other nations, such as Australia, have seen the benefits that arise from a long-term commitment to supporting high performance sport through a network of centres. Now New Zealand is to take a big step in that direction.

Today marks a new beginning. The establishment of the New Zealand Academy of Sport will provide a career pathway for the nation's athletes and coaches. The Academy will provide athletes with an excellent training environment – with top facilities, equipment, medical support, sports science and medicine as well as career development services.

I think it is great that many more athletes from a greater range of sports will now be able to get the support services they require. We estimate that the number of carded athletes will increase from about 650 up to 1500.

The Government has a vested interest in increasing participation in sport and fitness activities. There are benefits to employment, counteracting criminal and other anti-social behaviour, and especially health. People do imitate their heroes.

The Government also has a goal to strengthen national identity. High performance sport is an important vehicle to achieving that goal. I think we can all remember times when as a country we have overflowed with pride at the success of some of our sporting heroes. In recent times, the Black Sox back to back world championship wins have embodied the kiwi 'take on the world and win' attitude.

So I see a distinct role for Government to support sporting excellence so the nation can experience more of those winning moments. The Government has invested $16 million in the Academy and its programmes over the next four years. This long-term funding commitment allows certainty for planning and better use of resources.

The Academy concept brings together many parties who are interested in a common cause – raising the standard of New Zealand high performance sport.

Here in Wellington, a partnership of like-minded organisations put together the successful tender for the Academy's Central region. The Wellington City Council, Upper Hutt City Council, CIT, Victoria University, Otago University, and a Wanganui consortium have joined forces with the WestpacTrust Stadium to offer support services to athletes in the lower North Island area.

In Dunedin and Auckland, other like minded groups have put together great packages. These three centres will become the focal point for sporting excellence in the future.

Weightlifter Olivia Baker symbolises the way forward for New Zealand sport. Under the guidance of coach Gary Marshall and training with very basic equipment, she has already taken on the best in the sport and won. The New Zealand Academy of Sport will now provide a defined career pathway for Olivia and other young talented athletes who aspire to be like her.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the best to the athletes travelling to the Olympic Games. As athletes you will be representing New Zealand, that is yourselves, your families, your communities and all of those who have supported you over the years. You can't all win golds, but I am keen to see plenty of personal bests. I am sure you will do yourself and your nation proud.

The Olympic Games are the biggest sporting event in the world. There is bound to be controversy at the Sydney Games, if only because the media attending the Games outnumber the athletes by more than 5,000. My advice, for what is worth, to athletes attending these Games would be to keep your heads down and focus on what you are there for. You are there to represent your country at the highest level and to strive to do your personal best on the day.

New Zealand has a proud sporting history, and we look to you and the Academy athletes of the future to continue that tradition.

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