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Pro golfer Lydia Ko asks for $208k in taxpayer money for training

The governing body for golf in New Zealand has asked for $208,000 in taxpayer money to help pay for Lydia Ko’s coaching, physiotherapy and mental skills training this year.

New Zealand Golf lodged the application on behalf of the 16-year-old golfer in 2012, before she turned pro. The application covered a two-year period to keep her on track for the 2016 Olympics, High Performance Sport New Zealand says in a just released statement.

High Performance Sport New Zealand receives applications and dishes out the government grants to the country’s elite athletes. The organisation’s 2013 budget is about $60 million.

NZ Golf received $300,000 in investment for its high-performance programme in 2012, and $185,000 in 2013 to specifically support Ms Ko's Olympic bid. The level of support for 2014 has yet to be determined, the statement says.

Now a pro, Ms Ko has pocketed winnings of more than $280,000 this year, $250,000 from the LPGA circuit and more than $30,000 for second place at the NZ Open.

Her sponsors include Callaway Golf and ANZ.

Jordan Williams, executive director of the Taxpayers’ Union, says Ms Ko should not need taxpayer money anymore.

"Golf is one of the richest sports in the world,” he says. “Why should Kiwi taxpayers, most of whom earn less than Ms Ko, subsidise someone earning hundreds of thousands? So far this year Ms Ko has collected more than $280,000, not including sponsorship money. Surely it’s enough for Ms Ko to refrain from seeking taxpayer-funded welfare."

The $208,000 NZ Golf is asking for now includes $115,000 in transportation and accommodation costs for Ms Ko and her mother.

NZ Golf lodged the application when Ms Ko was still an amateur but chief executive Dean Murphy says the funding is still necessary. Ms Ko is eyeing the gold medal at the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.

Mr Murphy told Fairfax it was common for professional athletes to receive taxpayer money and the opportunity to make money in a particular sport should not be a major consideration in an application to High Performance Sport.

Mr Williams disagrees.

"We're staggered by NZ Golf's attitude to taxpayers’ money,” he says. “Taxpayer funding should focus on fostering talent, not subsidising professionals already earning hundreds of thousands. The money should be going to developing potential talent, not subsidising a sportswoman receiving generous amounts from corporate sponsors.”

In addition to providing performance support to New Zealand’s elite athletes, High Performance Sport also provides investment to support the high performance programmes of targeted national sports organisations, and specific campaigns.

In 2012, the organisation spent $800,000 on the rugby Sevens and an additional $1.75 million for the event in 2013.

The nine targeted sports are the six Olympic disciplines of athletics, bike, rowing, swimming, triathlon and yachting, along with rugby, cricket and netball.

High Performance Sport chief executive Alex Baumann says the organisation has supported Ms Ko because of her potential to win an Olympic medal.

“We target our investment at sports and athletes that have potential to win at Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and world championships for non-Olympic Sports,” he says.

When New Zealanders win medals for their country, it makes the nation feel proud, he says.

“As we have said publicly before, it’s likely that Lydia’s earnings as a professional will mean that she no longer needs our financial support and we’re continuing to talk to New Zealand Golf about that. There may be other support we can provide to Lydia such as help from our specialist staff to assist her through to the Olympics,” Mr Baumann says.

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Comments and questions

Is she having us on.?

No Issues here- if she qualifies for the funding. She is no different to funding given to other pro sports people like Michael Campbell or ETNZ, and she is no different to lanzertech or endace who have been given tax payer funding.

Any form of funding should have form of caveat to it. Perhaps a percentage of future earnings above the average wage.

Representing NZ should be treated as a privilege, and should be a level playing field for all. Equal performance bonuses for medals.

These payments should be secured over a professional sportsperson's future income and repaid once that income hits a certain level.

Is this so different to giving loot to Americas Cup team? She's a great ambassador and I think she deserves support

No, of course, not different at all. But which multi-million dollar high tech industry is Lydia helping to support?

Oh, is that the criteria? I didn't realise. If so though, why call it High Performance Sports NZ? Why not be straight up and just have one fund called Business Development Grants for any activity that supports an industry? Or perhaps we could save some time and just give all our spare cash to the sailors? After all everything else (like health and education) is so well funded and Herne Bay house prices are on the increase I hear - so those poor sailors need all the help they can get. Bottom line is Lydia Ko is a credit to herself and a great ambassador for NZ. She is world class in one of the most watched and widely played sports in the world. She deserves our support.

Runs concurrent with Ritchie McCaw and Dan Carter ,not forgetting Team New Zealand or tennis player Eracovitch.Surely the gripes are not because she is Asian extraction,or is it Tall Poppy mentality.

All professional sportspeople should have to repay any taxpayer funding received once their income reaches a certain high level.

What about Companies who have received taxpayer funding - who sell out and move overseas ?

I would prefer funding tertiary education rather than so millionaire to be sportswomen.

Well actually sunshine, you're doing both. The difference with Lydia is we're seeing a positive outcome.

What positive outcome?

Bob Charles paid a percentage of his earnings to a Golf Foundation to help develop young gofers. I think this should be the model for all payments to professional, or aspiring professional, sports people.

There should also be a caveat that she receives funding as long as she has New Zealand as her domicile.

We support Emirates team New Zealand - the all blacks etc All of whom are professional sports.

Once it becomes a professional career all taxpayer funding should cease, otherwise every apprentice in NZ should be able to source funding as well.
She's already earned as much as the Prime Minister for goodness sake!! after only a few months!!

Surely the comparison is tertiary education - high potential talent is extended credit against future earnings? Student loans must be repaid so why not sportspeople when they reach a certain threshold...

In January, media reported a "lucrative sponsorship agreement" from Callaway estimated to be more than US$1 million per year. The taxpayer funded money tap should now be turned off for Lydia and shame on her for thinking she still needed it.

This is as obscene as the Council committee that denied Emergency helicopter funding in favour of the arts. This woman has already signed up for a huge sponsorship from the ANZ worth millions.

The funding to the Westpac helicopter was cut due to other revenue streams, primarily sponsorship.

Are you saying that one organisation should not have their funding cut if they have additional income from elsewhere and another organisation should have their funding cut for the same reason?

From my side, I think both of them should receive funding - one saves lives and the other promotes our country on the international scene. As a primarily exporting country more promotion generates more income for the country as a whole.

Why not? The America's Cup crew were given millions of taxpayer money -- enabling them to acquire a significant amount of real estate.

Taxpayer subsidy to America's Cup was too generous!!!

We have insufficient information.
Did she actually claim it herself or did her Management/NZ Golf advisers promote this 'sponsorship' on her behalf?
Will her current professional Manager/Management Company be eligible to receive their cut from this element of her 'income'....if granted?

Favour the Tertiary Loan level playing-field precedent for professionals over a certain level/after appropriate time period - or for that matter financed by a loan from her ANZ sponsor repaid out of future professional income.
Ditto for Americas Cup/Rugby players, etc. with possibly transparent separate bonus funding in lieu as offset for actually participating in eg Olympics, World Cup, Americas Cup, etc

Why should tax payer fund her training as she chosen her sports
She is getting lots of money by way of price. Who's idea is this to pay
Her so much money from the tax. He must be nut. She is very rich.

I bet this funding request comes from IMG her new management company. I dont see why the NZ taxpayer should be paying their bill,

As a professional golfer myself I know how much money she is realistically making. It is far more than just the on course earnings that his easily found. Her ANZ sponsorship is worth plenty. Plus people forget how much Callaway will be paying her. She will also be receiving performance bonuses from Callaway for top 10 places and wins that I can guarantee are worth far more than the average NZ annual wage.

She is the last NZ pro that now needs financial assistance and I could list easily 10 young NZ golfers I know that need the funding just to get to tournaments that all have great potential but because of living in NZ struggle to make ends meet for tourneys.

If she gets the funding it will show just how pathetic NZ Golf are, of which they are hopeless and also that all morals the Ko family had has disappeared. They know it is tough to get funds when coming through the ranks so if they take the money that should be going to the same people that are in that situation would just be wrong. Even though this was lodged last year it is not difficult to send an email saying we no longer need the funding but thanks anyway.

Sort it out NZ golf and Ko family.

Ah so this is why we needed all those extra pokie machines... Yep she must need the money more than we do...

My guess is that, over time, Lydia will be cutting almost all of her ties with New Zealand. Like most of the successful LPGA players from other countries she will set up residence here in the U S. Occasional trips "home" on holidays, etc will be her routine. If she spend more than a month a year in New Zealand in years to come I will be surprised. Yes, she may represent New Zealand in the Olympics, which would be nice, but her time as a "New Zealander" is probably coming to an end. If I were a taxpayer in New Zealand I would want public money to be used for young Kiwi athletes other than her.
She has plenty of financial resources now. The public money she would get for training, coaching, etc would have no bearing on her preparation for the Olympics. She will be ready for the Games, with or without the financial grants from New Zealand taxpayers. Find a more productive use for the funds.