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Pokie losses, sporting gains

Opinion Piece

Olympian Peter Miskimmin faced a tricky question during his session with Gisborne District Council last week, on the issue of how much funding sports bodies get from pokie trusts.

The hockey legend, now the chief executive of Sport New Zealand, was impressive as he gave the council a run-down on the organisation’s philosophies.

He described Gisborne as a special place, said waka ama was the country’s fastest growing sport and stressed that Sport NZ’s onus was on the infrastructure for sport, which was important to New Zealand communities.

But he came to a sticky point with a question from Shannon Dowsing, someone with a background in sports financing, on how the organisation reconciled its funding with the issue of problem gambling.

It didn’t faze Miskimmin, indicating that it is a question he has had a number of times before. His considered reply was that Sport NZ was a small player in a $2 billion business. They wanted to work with organisations like Eastland Community Trust and gaming trusts to ensure that the money was invested in the communities where it would have the greatest impact.

A good answer, and one with a touch of realism about it. If the money is there, why not use it for something worthwhile?

But it will not satisfy the large number of people who believe that the harm done by problem gambling, which is heavily centred on the pokies, is such that they must go completely.

Anti-pokie campaigners have been increasingly active in Gisborne, achieving some success with the closing of the Kaiti TAB.

But the latest stats show that the pokies are still big in Gisborne, with millions being lost by people who, in many cases, can least afford it.

There is a similar issue with the involvement of the alcohol industry in sponsoring sport.

And going back in history there was a time when the tobacco industry was involved, but that was taken away. The loss of that money was covered partly by temporary government subsidies. But could sports bodies, especially grassroots ones, survive the loss of funds from gambling?