NZ Government Support for Optimist Worlds

I was rather surprised today to read (NZ Herald and Government press release) that the NZ Government is giving NZ$150,000 to the Optimist World Championships (a junior sailing competition for those who don’t know), which are to be held at Napier, December 31, 2011 – January 10, 2012.

The rationale given in the press release is that this is an ‘investment’ designed to promote the Hawkes Bay economy. Given that I’m a sailing fanatic, I guess I might be expected to be happy about this, but frankly I think it raises some questions that really need to be answered before I would be ready to congratulate anyone.

Having myself been involved this year in the organization of a fairly major North American sailing regatta, I find the size of this grant pretty remarkable. Our event took place over one week and involved 127 catamaran sailors, mostly from across North America plus several from Europe and South America. Competitors raced in four different classes on two separate courses. This event was essentially self funded by entry fees, commercial sponsorship, merchandise sales and raffles and had a total budget of around US$30,000.

The Optimist event is larger – an estimated 250 sailors for 11 days, but the entry fees are NZ$1500 each, providing minimum revenue of $375,000 – yeah, in the vicinity of 10 times the size of our budget. And the Government is giving an additional $150,000, raising the minimum revenue (before any commercial sponsorship) of $525,000.

I find this quite staggering. I have written to Gerry Brownlee, the Minister for Economic Development, asking for the bid documentation, so I can see both the event budget and the economic analysis used to justify his decision to make this investment. I will report what I find out here on the blog.

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