Examining the justifications for government investment in high performance sport: a critical review essay

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The New Zealand Government has recently increased investment in high performance sport with the justification that elite sport helps to produce a more active, cohesive and economically robust nation, with a positive sense of identity. In this paper, in order to encourage reflection, debate and research, these justifications for the support of elite sport are critically examined, with particular reference to case studies of rugby union and the America's Cup Regatta. The proposition that significant public investment in a small number of elite sport participants, will result in increased sporting activity levels, is shown to be currently unsubstantiated. In addition, it is argued that it is problematic to rely on functionalist justifications, related to social cohesion and national identity, for promoting high performance sport. Finally, it is suggested that, although economic benefits associated with investment in high performance sport can be significant, concern should also focus on how the returns from these investments are distributed and how they affect factors associated with social, political and economic inequities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-75
Number of pages18
JournalAnnals of Leisure Research
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • elite sport
  • government investment
  • sport sociology

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