What Is It You Do?
I have been involved in strength sports for over ten years and have long been aware that people don’t even know what our sports involve. When I told someone I was a Powerlifter, the typical reply would be something like this:
“Oh, you’re a Powerlifter!”, as they throw their hands above their heads, “I love watching that at the Olympics!”
Now that I actually do throw weight above my head as a Weightlifter, the exchange seems to go the opposite way:
“Weightlifting, that is awesome! How much do you bench?”
It would be easy to feel hard done by. However, I have always been aware that most people don’t know about, and frankly, don’t even care about strength sports. These are minority sports. Sports most people aren’t drawn to. But why should that diminish your enthusiasm?
The State of Play
Before I share some thoughts on how, as those involved in minority sports, we can help to better our sports. I want to briefly outline the current state of play for those involved in barbell-based sports.
High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) has a funding model based around several key areas: (1) Past Performance, (2) Future Potential, (3) Quality of High Performance Programme and Campaigns, and (4) Individual Sport Context.
This limits (well, almost eliminates) potential funding to Powerlifting in New Zealand. Primarily because it is not an Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games sport, and the “Past Performance” component of funding is almost solely focused around performance at these events.
It also means that Olympic Weightlifting in New Zealand is highly unlikely to secure significant funding. No New Zealand athlete has won a medal at an Olympic Games (someone please correct me if I am wrong!), and major funding is unlikely until such time as that occurs. However, we have had some success at the Commonwealth Games, but this has not led to any significant investment from HPSNZ.
To provide you with some figures, according to the HPSNZ Core Investment Plan for 2019, Olympic Weightlifting in New Zealand will receive $40,000 in 2019. This figure makes up 0.11% of HPSNZ’s overall investment plan across all sports. It is less than 1% of what Rowing receives and only 20% of what Bowls receives.
To put it politely, Olympic Weightlifting is not a priority to HPSNZ.
Please note that this is not an attack on HPSNZ, the funding criteria is clearly stated and all sporting organisations know how it works. We are a small country with limited funds to spend across all sports, it is simply impossible to provide significant funding to every sport that needs it.
Anyhow, the key take-home message from this funding rant is not that we should all be depressed and give up. Rather, it is to realise that if you love the sport you are involved in. It is up to you to do something about it. As an Olympic Weightlifter, your governing body does not have oodles of cash. They cannot throw you money and resources, because the money and resources simply do not exist.
What You Can Do For Your Sport
So, we know the situation. Funding is minimal – if any. Our sports are not well-known to the general public. What can you as an athlete do?
When I was Powerlifting, my training partner and I competed at a couple of World Championships. Jono and I were fortunate enough to actually receive a couple of hundred dollars from both our regional organisation (Central Districts Powerlifting Association) as well as the national organisation (New Zealand Powerlifting Federation). All remaining costs, however, were up to us – this meant fundraising and making up any shortfall from our own pockets.
At this time, little was known about the sport in both our city and the country as a whole. This meant reporters weren’t lining up to ask questions about our preparation, and sponsors weren’t calling to secure us as athletes. There was zero interest from anyone outside of the sport. We had to generate interest, to make our sport more well known!
For any lifter looking to raise funds, you need to raise interest first. This means you have to contact media outlets yourself. Talk to your local newspaper, try and make contacts nationally if you can. More often than not, I found that local sports reporters were more than willing to do small pieces about us, we even managed to get featured on the New Zealand’s National 3 News Show. But no reporter ever came seeking our story, it was up to us to talk to them!
Through doing this, you help to raise the profile of your sport.
Secondly, if you think by being the National Champion in your weight class you will be attracting numerous sponsors, you may be a little confused. Did I mention earlier that we are involved in minority sports?
Sponsorships work when both parties benefit: You get funds or product, and then with you as a face and promoter of their brand, the company makes more sales. You can’t simply ask for funds and expect to be given them. How will you benefit the company with whom you seek sponsorship? You must be able to clearly demonstrate this to them. And you know what? If you have helped to make your sport more popular through actively seeking media coverage and promoting your sport, then attaining sponsorship is an easier prospect.
Finally, and likely most importantly, make all volunteers feel appreciated! You are not the only one giving things up for the sport.
Those competition referees – sitting in that seat watching every lift of the day – may get a free coffee for their troubles. The loaders – frantically changing plates to keep the competition running smoothly – may be given a cold bottle of water for their labour. That local competition organiser – spending hours setting up and running the event – is probably making peanuts (if they’re lucky!). And that’s just to mention a few people who make our sports possible.
These people are passionate about our sports. Make them feel appreciated. Shake their hands after you finish lifting. Thank them for allowing you to compete. Without these people there are no competitions. So make an effort to show them you appreciate their contribution to the sport. Perhaps you could even volunteer to help at a competition yourself?
These small efforts to show appreciation may go some way to help keep volunteers in our sports. With more keen volunteers our sports can grow at the grassroots, we can have more people involved in driving the sports forward. Do your bit, say thank you.
We are involved in minority sports. It is unlikely we will gain from that involvement, more than likely we will give things up. That is what you do when you are passionate about something!
As an athlete, or even a coach or official, do your bit to promote the sport. Talk to the media and share your stories on your own social media platforms. Do what you can to help grow the popularity of your sport.
Most importantly, ensure you always show appreciation to those who give up their time so you can compete. Shake their hands, say thank you. You may not always like referees decisions, or agree with decisions from your national governing body, but these are the people who make it possible for you to compete. Say thanks, and perhaps even get involved as a volunteer yourself.
Thanks for reading!
If you have any questions, fire me a message on Instagram. If you have any comments then feel free to write them below.