Governments stupid to stay silent on sports stars
Taxpayers deserve to know what they’re forking out to sporting stars.
In South Australia, Premier Mike Rann - despite his reputation as a master of spin - has made a poor judgment when it comes to not disclosing how much Lance Armstrong is paid to appear at the Tour Down Under.
The State Government has continually refused to say how much it has paid the seven-time Tour de France winner to appear at the TDU, even claiming the information was commercial in confidence, thus putting the details out of the reach of freedom of information requests.
The argument has also been made that divulging the amount the state spends on the event would give other states leverage to poach Lance, and the TDU from SA.
But the refusal to say what Armstrong has been paid has guaranteed years of speculation and bad press.
In contrast, divulging it, and proudly, would have led to a modest amount of publicity, and allowed the government, as it already does, to argue that it is money well spent.
The knockers will always have a crack at a government which pays a multi-millionaire sports star to appear at an event.
And let’s face it - it does stick in the craw.
Here’s a rich individual who is being paid simply to turn up, on the back of (let’s face it) a well-earned reputation.
Arguments on forums such as The Advertiser‘s website AdelaideNow always devolve rapidly to calls for the money to be spent on hospitals or policing - an argument which would have governments spending nothing at all on anything frivolous such as tourism promotion or Australia Day fireworks if we take them to their logical conclusions.
But the fact is that whatever the government has spent on bringing Armstrong to SA (and it’s rumoured to be about $2 million) is money well spent.
While it has a growing profile in Australia, professional cycling is huge in Europe and largely thanks to Lance Armstrong’s achievements, has a healthy following in the US also. Even people who are not cycling fans will follow his exploits because of his heroic recovery from cancer and his record Tour de France achievements, as well as his ongoing efforts to raise money for cancer research.
His appearances in the TDU represent his return to, and retirement from, the world of international cycle racing, following his earlier retirement after his last Tour de France.
While the increase cannot solely be contributed to Armstrong’s appearance, the number of international riders competing in the community challenge in which amateur riders get to ride the TDU race course has jumped from 717 in 2008 to 2426 last year. The economic impact has jumped from $17.3 million to $41.5 million from 2008 to 2010.
And the number of international journalists travelling to SA to document Lance’s milestones has ballooned, bringing the race, and the state, to the world’s attention.
The race’s profile has also continued to grow, with this year’s line-up packed with some of the best riders in the world.
So why not divulge the fee, and challenge the knockers, and your political opponents, to argue that it was a waste of money?
Governments on the east coast have not been reluctant to say how much they are investing in bringing stars to Australia.
Shipping Oprah Winfrey and a studio full of American viewers to our shores cost a pretty penny - $3 million through Tourism Australia, which was made up of equal contributions from the Federal and New South Wales Governments.
Contributions from other states and the wage costs of the public servants who helped make it happen would have added up to millions more.
The outcome - according to an editorial in the Daily Telegraph last month an early estimate was a 35-fold return on investment.
Tiger Woods was paid $3 million by the Victorian Government to appear at the Australian Masters in November.
He was there to defend his title, which was the last one he won before the scandal surrounding his string of extra-marital affairs wrecked his marriage and knocked him out of golf while he dealt with the fall-out.
His return to the Masters was a compelling tale of a fallen hero attempting to make amends publicity gold.
While the Brumby Government argued it had to pay appearance fees to stop major events being poached by New South wales, that’s only part of the picture.
It’s just as easy for stars to be poached by other nations if the price tag is right.
Australia is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to winning the hearts of international tourists, with our strong dollar dealing travel operators a tough hand.
Governments which are spending millions on promotion, and getting measurable returns which justify that expense, should stand up, and (excuse the pun) be counted.
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