COMMONWEALTH GAMES “LOSERS”?
I saw a headline in the Daily Telegraph that grabbed my attention a few weeks back about the success (or lack of according to the tele) of the Australian Commonwealth games Team. I was a bit dubious as a lot of the media coverage I’d seen had been quite positive; we did well in the pool and cycling, and seemed to pick up other medals in sports that we normally do well in, like hockey and netball.
The Tele’s article was clearly partisan - blaming ALP funding for a “poor performance”.
I wanted to look a little deeper at why our medal tally had dropped, and compared to other top ten nations, what else was going on.
Our medal tally is significantly lower compared to Delhi in 2010.
This is true. In 2010 we collected 172 medals compared with 137 in Glasgow. Over time our performance appears to be dropping as well.
But why the significant drop compared to Delhi?
Not comparing apples with apples?
There were four sports not contested in Glasgow, for which Australia won 12 medals in Delhi. 8 of those came from tennis alone. We did though pick up 5 medals from new sports that were contested in Glsgow and not in Delhi. Wrestling was contested in Glasgow, but only freestyle, not Greco-Roman. It’s that latter that Australia picked up 4 medals in Delhi.
We stayed strong in the elite level sports
Swimming and cycling remained strong for us in both 2010 and 2014, which the government announced funding would be focused on..
Our performance in gymnastics was significantly lower than in 2014.
The gymnastics team collected 21 medals in Delhi, but only 4 in Glasgow. This was the sport that significantly dropped the team’s overall medal tally.
England beat us…and that has to be bad right?
Well, not really. The funding that went into the UK team for the 2012 London Olympics must have been significant and the English and Scottish teams benefited from this. England scored an impressive 174 medals (58 Gold) compared to Australia’s 137 (49 Gold). Yet, Canada who came in third place, scored 82 medals (32 Gold), so despite second place, we are still quite strong. Interestingly, it appears (albeit via a cursory google search) the Canadian Press aren’t wringing their hands about their performance. Their athletes results received positive coverage, with some actually asking, despite a consistently strong performance, and multiple hosting stints, is the Commonwealth Games relevant to Canada anymore?
Should we be doing this well anyway?
The population of England is approximately 53 million and Australia is 22 million. In terms of population size Australia still punches above it’s weight in sport. For every million people, the England team won 3.3 medals. The Australian team won 6. (It should be noted that Scotland, Jamaica and New Zealand are doing really well based on their population size.)
What about our team size?
We did though have the same team size (Aus with 417 and England with 416). England simply outclassed Australia. 42% of their athletes won a medal, which is an outstanding result for their team. Still,a third of Australia’s athletes stood on the podium, which is excellent. Let’s not beat them up too much!
But economically, should we be doing this well (or badly)?
If you look at total GPD, we do amazingly well. If we cop are ourselves with Canada and India - who both have a higher GPD, we do very well thanks.
I was really surprised though to learn that Australia has the highest GPD per capita in the Commonwealth. When you look at results by total GPD, results are as expected, and England becomes the outlier; punching above it’s weight.
So was the Australian team a bunch of “losers”? The simple answer is no. We did well in the elite sports that most punters care about. We didn’t do so well in the other ones. We were up against a pumped up English team running off the back of a London Olympics high, and a significant round of funding. When you look at our economic place in the world, we are performing as expected. You have to seriously question as well the wisdom of increased funding in sport in a time when education, transport, public transport and health need major injections. I’d like to think as a nation we’ve become a bit more sophisticated and comfortable with our place in the world, and that we recognise that we excel other arenas beyond sport. I think though that I am being too optimistic.
Bread and Circuses people, bread and circuses…If we feel good about our sporting teams, I think the powers that be know that the masses are happy and overlook the other troubles we face. And they are probably right. What do we have to look forward to? The Commonwealth games are hosted on the Gold Coast in 2018. Athletes, You have been put on notice. If you don’t top the medal tally, and come (gasp) second, you will be branded losers!
(Also have to give a shout out to Ben Jones of DataRemixed for his excellent step-by-step tutorial of how to create a slopegraph in Tableau. It is a fantastic reference, and I encourage you to check it out)