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New Zealand Centre for Sport Policy & Politics (NZCSPP)©

Directors’ message

Welcome to the New Zealand Centre for Sport Policy and Politics! The Centre is grounded in the belief that integrating practical knowledge with rigorous theoretically-informed research is the best strategy for advancing NZ’s sport-related aspirations.

Researchers at the Centre are engaged in empirically-based projects surrounding state policies and programmes related to sport, health, exercise, mega-events and physical education.

By combining research with extensive outreach, our mission is to sustain public dialogue and ensure that New Zealanders remain involved in developing workable solutions to the issues facing the sport sector.

To this end, the Centre offers analysis to the media, general public, non-profit organisations, academia and government. We produce research studies, books, editorials/commentary and research reports.

The CSPS reinforces the University of Otago’s School of Physical Education, Sport & Exercise Sciences standing as among the leading departments in the world for the academic and applied study of social and public policy issues related to sport.

Mike Sam and Steve Jackson
Directors NZCSPP

Our researchers

Projects and publications

The Professionalisation and Commercialisation of Secondary School Sport

The increasing professionalization of sport in New Zealand over the past 25 years has provided a platform for the globalisation of some sporting codes (particularly rugby, cricket and netball), new forms of entertainment for fans, and new career paths for young athletes.

The fact that SKY TV offers a choice of at least 12 different sport channels highlights the nation’s interest in sport but also its value as a media commodity. However, while the growth of professional sport has wide ranging benefits this has also had a number of unintended, but often predictable, consequences.

Professionalisation tends to lead to:

  1. competition between sporting codes to identify and recruit future stars,
  2. the development of elite sport academies that become feeder systems for elite sport,
  3. early specialisation of young athletes and pressure to train longer and harder,
  4. competition between secondary schools to invest enormous amounts of money into recruiting (and poaching) top athletes for the sole purpose of winning championships and elevating status and prestige.

Some principals, sport administrators and school principals have described the current situation as a crisis and have identified the emergence of the New Zealand Sport Collective (NZSC) as symbolic of wider systemic problems with school sport that could be impacting on the health and well-being of young athletes. According to their website, the NZ Sport Collective: “…is a ground-breaking collaboration between more than 50 sports, created and brought together by Waddell+Associates”.

In 2020, it was announced that School Sport New Zealand (NZSSSC), the body that administers and co-ordinates secondary school sport, had signed an agreement with the NZ Sports Collective giving Sky TV exclusive rights to stream or broadcast a number of tournaments and events on its “Sky Sport Next” Channel.

While the deal was welcomed by some NZ sport organisations, it was a surprise and shock to others, including some principals who indicated they were not consulted. Curiously, the commercialisation of NZ secondary school sport comes at a time when the government, including Sport New Zealand, has signalled a shift in policy from investment elite, high performance sport to a focus on participation.

There are many reasons for this shift in policy but declining rates of youth participation is one of them.

The commercialisation of secondary school sport, including the media broadcast deal signed between the NZ Sport Collective and Sky TV raises a wide range of concerns that require scrutiny, evaluation and research-informed policy in order to protect young athletes and the integrity of sport. In particular, public discussion and research is required to address concerns related to:

  • The professionalisation and commercialisation of secondary school sport
  • Impact on Academic Achievement and grassroots sports
  • Child protection and the health and well-being of young athletes
  • Youth athlete burnout
  • Use of Performance Enhancing Supplements
  • Match fixing
  • Gender equity and funding distribution

Related information

Stadia, states and citizens

There is little doubt that sport holds a prominent place within cities.  Stadia are some of the most striking structures on urban skylines, and are significant for the simple fact that they generate so many spill-over effects including: the need to relocate or displace nature, heritage buildings and even citizens, to the need for added public transport and parking facilities.  Beyond these effects, contemporary civic connections with sport are also significant because they so often reveal a complex process of constructing a credible (but fragile) sense of identity for local citizens.  It is telling for instance, that when civic elites extol (and conflate) sport’s links with ‘community’, they do so for the simple reason that to speak out against one is to speak out against the other. [more]

Sport and alcohol sponsorship

According to a 2015 Sport New Zealand report, alcohol sponsorship of sport is worth 21.3 million dollars per year. Multiplying this amount across all nations, including those with much larger populations and both sporting and alcohol economies, and it is quickly evident that we are talking about a billion dollar partnership. Indeed, while there are exceptions, by and large alcohol and alcohol sponsorship literally saturates contemporary sport. To be clear this is not a new phenomenon, the sport-alcohol relationship has a long history but it has certainly reached new heights and is now being targeted as both part of the problem and part of the solution to New Zealand’s binge drinking culture. [more]

Sport and national identity

Despite all its limitations, sport remains one of, if not the most, important sources of national identification for many nation-states. Perhaps due to its long history, seeming separation from the serious side of everyday political life, and its sheer popularity reinforced through global mediated inter-national competitions, sport serves as a strategic site for the development of national cohesion and identity. As Clarke & Clarke (1982: 65-66) note:  “there is an articulation between sport and political nationalism which can only exist because of the popular identification of particular athletes and teams as representatives of ourselves...Sport is a forum that allows the construction of the nation as ‘us’ - rising above and displacing whatever minor internal divisions there may be”. The strong links between sport and nationalism provide it with enormous symbolic and political power that can be used by particular groups to advance their interests.  [more]

High performance sport policy

New Zealand Government funding towards elite sport has increased dramatically in the last decade, from $2 million in 2001 to $60 million in 2012/13.  The high performance sport system is a distinctive context, but one certainly not insulated from the wider political environment.  Indeed it has inherited and to a large extent embraced the state’s increasing emphasis on accountability for results.  Medal targets have thus become an explicit driver in elite sport, with performance management evolving to become a policy of sorts, manifest most particularly in the form of prioritised (i.e., targeted) funding for selected sports.  The rhetoric of ‘no compromise’ pervades as both the justification for investment distributions as well as a kind of modus operandi for the system more broadly. [more]

Sport and diplomacy

Sport continues to occupy a rather ambiguous position within the context of politics, foreign policy and diplomatic relations (Jackson and Haigh, 2009; Kuper, 2006; Levermore and Budd, 2004).
While there is much popular and scholarly speculation concerning why this is the case, one potential reason is the rather schizophrenic way in which sport, as a cultural site and practice, is viewed
within society. The term “schizophrenic” is used to highlight the conflicting and contradictory ways in which sport is considered both serious and important but insignificant and trivial at different
times, in different contexts and by people representing different interest groups.

Ultimately, while some people may wish to continue to argue whether or not sport “should” remain pure and above and beyond politics, the fact is that it could not be otherwise—sport has always been and will remain a part of political life (Allison, 1993; Houlihan, 1994). Indeed, the more important sport becomes with respect to both its social and economic impact, both locally and globally, the more political it will become. Arguably, we should neither overstate nor understate the diplomatic potential of sport, but rather seek to understand the nature and effects of its use with respect to diplomacy. This challenges us to consider diplomacy within sport, diplomacy for sport and diplomacy through sport. [more]

Sport policy in small states

Within the context of sport, serious questions are being asked about how small states are supposed to compete against giants like the USA, China, Russia, Brazil and Germany. How much money should be spent on elite sport development and/or the hosting of sport mega-events in what is quickly becoming the equivalent of a ‘sporting arms race’? At first glance, the fate and future of small states seems obvious. For example, according to recent estimates, China has 400 million basketball participants. Even if this is an overestimation, it provides a significant contrast to observations that 60% of the world’s states have populations of less than 10 million and 48% of states have less than 5 million inhabitants. When it comes to sport, size ‘matters’, and hence differences in scale have been a frequent independent variable in studies examining elite sport success.  Generating explanations regarding how and why size matters for sport raises numerous questions regarding the possible differences, challenges and opportunities of being a small state. [more]

Sport and gambling

Betting/gambling has become an integral, one might argue, natural part of contemporary sport culture. However, the enduring relationship between the two cultural fields of ‘sport’ and ‘betting/gambling’ has always been troubled because of the potential threat to the very essence and integrity of  sport which is largely linked to its unpredictability, its uncertainty of outcome. This issue has become a major issue for all sport organisations in light of a dramatic increase in the number of cases of match-fixing. According to former President of the IOC, Jacque Rogge, “We have made doping a top priority, now there is a new danger coming up that almost all countries have been affected by and that is corruption, match-fixing and illegal gambling” (quoted in Kelso, July 25, 2012). [more]

Sport and broadcasting

Pay-TV networks invest heavily to purchase the exclusive rights to various sporting properties, now frequently bundled into multi-platform packages (e.g., pay-TV, free-to-air and digital/online rights).  These developments have radically expanded the viewing options of sports fans, while at the same time providing vast amounts of revenue for various governing bodies, teams, and leagues around the world.  A corollary of these developments, though, has been the restriction of access to live telecasts of sport to fans and consumers who can afford subscription fees to digital specialty channels.   Indeed, as new generations grow up with internet TV and mobile phones, paying for infotainment products including access to digital sport is increasingly seen as ‘natural’.  Given the significance of sport as an element of national identity, it is unsurprising that the issue of ‘free-to-air’ access to sporting telecasts has spurred political dialogue and debate.  [more]

Gender and Governance

Community sport policy

Bodies, cultures and society

International Advisory Board

  • Professor Barrie Houlihan, Loughborough University, UK
  • Professor Fred Coalter, Carnegie Research Centre, Leeds Metropolitan University
  • Professor Lars Tore Ronglan, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences
  • Professor Pasi Koski, University of Turku, Finland
  • Professor Peter Donnelly, Centre for Sport Policy, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Professor Bruce Kidd, Centre for Sport Policy, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Professor Kristine Toohey, Griffith University, Australia
  • Associate Professor Toni Bruce, University of Auckland, NZ
  • Dr. Joseph Piggin, Loughborough University, UK
  • Professor Marchi Wanderley , University of Parana, Brazil
  • Professor Fernando Mezzadri,University of Parana, Brazil
  • Professor Brian Wilson, University of British Columbia, Canada