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Paying tribute to our champions

Paying tribute to our champions

Trevor Mallard's Address to New Zealand Academy of Sport, Sky City Convention Centre, Auckland.

Tonight we pay tribute to the athletes and teams who have achieved at the highest level of sport. I for one am in awe of your achievements. Sitting among us tonight are Olympic, Paralympic, Commonwealth and World Champions and many other athletes and teams who have performed with distinction across a wide range of sports and disciplines while wearing the silver fern.

2005 in particular was a magical year in terms of sporting achievements - it was certainly a year that I was extremely proud to be the Minister for Sport and Recreation and one that won't be forgotten for years to come.

Sport does define us as New Zealanders. At the grass roots level it helps unite communities and gives us a sense of belonging. On the international stage it invokes national pride and gives us a sense of our place in the world. And when New Zealanders do well in sport, people watching at home have a sense of collective pride and elation.

On top of these feel good factors we are also starting to appreciate the more tangible benefits sport can bring in terms of the economic impact and international exposure.

However, achieving at the top level in sport is no longer just about having talent or even about who wants it the most. While an athlete will not succeed without that drive and commitment, in the modern sporting world we are becoming more and more appreciative of the impact of the team that works behind the scenes.

And that support team can be huge. Within the sport there are coaches, scientists, doctors, physios, psychologists, high performance managers, officials and administrators - just to name a few.

Add to this the invaluable support provided by family and friends who invest in your sporting dreams and share in your successes and it is clear that sporting success is a collective effort.

All of these people have your best interests at heart - they are just as committed, just as passionate and they're doing their utmost to give you the best chance of success.

The government has also recognised that talent and determination aren't necessarily enough to get you to the top of your sport. Government funding for sport and recreation has increased from less than $3 million in 2000-01 to just under $58 million in 2006-07. SPARC's budget for high performance sport in 2006-07 is $38 million - which is dedicated to creating a world-class high performance environment that encourages you to excel.

The environment is a critical factor in achieving success and SPARC's high performance network, the New Zealand Academy of Sport, offers a wide range of services to athletes, coaches, officials and support personnel aimed at enhancing this.

Many of you here will have received support through a performance enhancement grant or from achieving carded status, a Prime Minister's Scholarship or perhaps you received some advice on how to better balance the demands of your sport with other areas of your lives. Hopefully all of these things have helped make a difference on the field of play.

But of course with this increased support and increased funding there also comes increased expectations - this pressure is a fact of life for any person who is at the top of their field whether it be in sport or some other capacity - dare I suggest, politics. Part of being an elite athlete is learning how to deal with that pressure and there are people here tonight who have clearly come to grips with it already.

However, in light of the media coverage following the recent Commonwealth Games in Melbourne I think we could look at ways of managing expectations better.

While I was disappointed that the team did not win more medals in Melbourne, I was also disappointed that comments I made were taken out of context and fuelled that debate. As I'm sure some athletes here have already experienced, the media can be quite selective in what they choose to print.

So I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the many outstanding performances in Melbourne - not just by the athletes and teams who won medals - but also by those athletes who achieved some great personal bests. In particular, there were some wonderful performances by young athletes who are just starting out on the road to greatness.

Tonight is an occasion to celebrate all of our sporting successes and the realisation of many sporting dreams. I'm sure that as you reflect on your past performances you will also be thinking about your next challenges.

In the words of Percy Cerutty - Herb Elliot's coach - 'Achieving success is like climbing a mountain. You can stand from afar and glimpse the summit. But, if you are wise, you will quickly turn away from any such contemplation and start organising yourself and get on the way.'

I wish you well on your way.

Ends

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