In 1938, Bert Kyle, Member of Parliament for Riccarton observed that the £4,000 allocated from the Government’s budget to support the newly formed 16-member National Council of Physical Welfare and Recreation Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs “seemed large”. Around $500,000 in today’s money, the actual cost to the public purse to support the “corporate and business operations” of Sport New Zealand is now $5.6 million, more than 10 times the original sum. Total annual Sport New Zealand personnel costs are now approaching $30 million.

(Bert Kyle was the first to question how government funding of sport was being spent)

The idea of a national "Council of Sport" was formed by William Edward Parry (the Minister of Internal Affairs in the 1935 Labour government led by Michael Joseph Savage), in the period between the first and second World Wars. Russia was the first to establish a “Ministry of Sport” in 1913, with France, Germany and England following suit following the cessation of hostilities in the 1920's. In many nations across Europe, improving the physical state of the male population was seen to be a necessary part of maintaining a defensive bulwark against future aggressors by buttressing military strength under the guise of athletic endeavour. It is unsurprising that an Officer (appointed by the Minister of Defence) representing the Naval, Military and Air Forces became a member of this country’s first National Council of Sport.

(Bill Parry alongside Michael Joseph Savage following the 1935 election victory for Labour)

Support for state involvement in national pastimes was not universally welcomed in the 1930's.

As one wit penned in the press ...

 For every branch of sport will feel
    The Government’s control.
No motorist will turn a wheel.
    No bowler bowl a bowl.
No golfer will, unsupervised,
    Progress from hole to bole,
No footballer, unauthorised,
    Presume to kick a goal.

An over’ll be eight balls, or six.
    According to the law;
Thev'll legislate on hockey sticks and want each cricket score.
    You'll have to seek the Sports Bureau (in office hours) before
They’ll let you take your friends and go
   To play a tennis four.

Officials will be set to watch
    The marble players’ ring.
And little boys who play hopscotch
    Will find them entering
Statistics of the hours of play,
    The scores, and everything.
(They’ll frighten all the kids away with all their pestering!)

Others questioned the true motives of the establishment of a state-funded sporting body, noting that “the State is quite justified in spending money to improve the health of the people, by looking after the health of children and giving them physical training and providing open spaces where games may be played. But the idea of it assisting and controlling cricket, football, golf and athletic sports is quite another matter.”

There was also the fear that the formation of such a body was simply a taxpayer nod to sporting nationalism. “It is one thing to beat other countries [in sport], but quite another matter to hold that unless the country can provide a dozen highly-trained athletic specialists who are a shade better than any other country’s specialists, the nation is going to the dogs, and to demand that the State shall interfere to check that movement”.

(In 1938, there was scepticism as to the motives of the newly formed Council of Sport)

Fears were allayed to a large degree when it was announced that the new entity would only be responsible for making grants out of monies appropriated by Parliament, to support the expenses of local authorities in providing or aiding the provision of facilities for physical training, exercise, sport and recreation, together with the expenses of supplying instructors and leaders. The passage of the Act led to an immediate flurry of applications by Councils nationally for financial aid towards the purchase or development of sports grounds and for the erection or completion of swimming baths.

Over the past 83 years, the initial scope of the National Council of Physical Welfare and Recreation has spectacularly grown such that it is now an independent Crown entity, with a responsible Minister and an annual personnel budget (comprising salaries and wages) approaching $30 million. In 2020, 1,217 sports clubs applied for and received financial support totalling $13.3 million in the second COVID-19 relief package for community sport. For every $1.00 in grants made, another $1.00 was spent in the "sector support" segment in salaries and wages for staff involved in providing knowledge, advice and technical expertise.

(Is the Government's annual $100 million investment reaching where its needed most?)

Under the assumption that those delivering sport in their local communities (mainly unpaid volunteers) have the greatest knowledge of their needs (financial and otherwise), it may well be timely to review the balance of financial support provided directly to community sport organisations, in addition to the "in-kind" support provided by the Government's agency for sport. With nearly $100 million of taxpayer funds (and an additional $65 million of New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds) being spent annually, many struggling to provide for (or participate in) sport may wonder if this annual investment is reaching where its needed most.