The term Elite Athlete used to mean a person who was identified as talented and whom a club or association decided to invest in for the future. That investment came along the lines of assisting financially with extra training and helping cover the costs associated with that extra commitment. Access to expert physic’s nutritionists and the best coaches. Elite after all means “pick of the best.”
Yet there is another meaning for the word Elite and sadly this appears to be usurping the original meaning attributed to those with Athletic prowess. The other meaning is “a group or class of persons considered to be superior to others because of their intelligence, social standing, or wealth.”
It is a well known fact that to play high level sport costs money. In Australia no matter what the sport to represent your State and have to travel is one of the biggest costs there is. If you are Western Australia or the Northern Territory the costs are far greater than for other states to attend National Championships on the East coast.
It will be these costs that will be used as an excuse for the shift in the meaning of Elite when referring to an athlete.
Sadly we are reaching a stage where no longer are the best players in the State representing Western Australia, but those who can afford the cost. This is not going to be good for sport in the long term.
The WA Diamonds took part in the recent Australian Hockey League in Darwin, yet the cream of Western Australia’s women hockey players, players who have played at World Cups, Olympics and those aspiring to play at that level were asked to pay $1200 to be a part of the state team. With Western Australia mysteriously opting to sign ex Dutch International player, 34-year old Kim Lammers, for an undisclosed fee, the players labelled their cost the “Lammers tax.” This was a very strange decision when one considers the wealth of talent in Western Australia. Sadly Lammers only managed to play three games without picking up an injury.
Another sport where the honour of representing your state has been taken away from those with talent and given to those with money is football. One young female revealed that as a student she had to turn down the opportunity of representing Western Australia because there was no way she could afford to pay the money required, as well as her student fees and rent.
This year’s under 13 and under 14 representatives again had to pay for the privilege of representing Western Australia.
Not only that, we have been advised that players selected to represent the state had to find the money to pay for their own strip to wear in the tournament! Surely the least the state body can do is arrange for the kit to be supplied, after all they have Nike down as a sponsor. One would have thought part of the sponsorship package would be kit for all state representative teams. This again raises the issue as to whether sponsorship deals in organisations such as this need to be more transparent.
What is even more galling for some parents is that this is on top of junior fees of upward of $750 per season depending on which club you belong to. The truth is though that the best players are unlikely to be playing for the clubs where these fees are being charged, yet those making the decisions are selecting from in the main just these clubs. Is that because they know that the parents of these children will be good for the money?
To make matters worse these are not the only two sports where this is happening. Everyone knows that sponsorship dollars are tight but surely money should be set aside for our representative sides so that the coaches can pick the best in that age group.
Most State bodies have someone in a sponsorship role, but maybe they need more manpower in this area. If they cannot attract sponsorship then maybe the State Bodies need to come up with fundraising activities so that they can select the best team to represent Western Australia, rather than simply those who can afford to play. Or sadly a decision needs to be made that certain age groups do not see Western Australia fielding a representative side. No State should be fielding an understrength side just because they found a squad whose parents or players could afford to travel.
In the past Elite athletes made sacrifices to reach the top. They missed out on careers as they focussed on their sport. They were not able to socialise with their contemporaries as they had training, or had to watch their diet. They took part-time jobs often to fit in with training. Now even if they make these sacrifices it would appear that it is still not enough. Unless they can find the required money, they will miss out on representative sport. It is no longer about elite athletes, but elitist athletes.
Why is it that the best athletes are no longer being selected? Why is it that only those who can afford to play for the state are the one’s being selected, the new breed of “Elite Athlete?”
This is not good for sport and not good for Western Australia, or ultimately our national teams.