Continuing with the “stages model”, the legitimatisation of the immediate agendas were further explored. Legitimisation can be further understood as the practice of justifying a course of action (Green, 2006). The cross-party support for the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), has been said to have developed so parties could gather political capital, after consecutively poor performances in the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games (Green and Houlihan, 2005).
The public outcry for improved sports performance on the elite level appears to have provided a platform, from which parties appeared to build parts of their campaigns around (Green and Houlihan, 2005). However, a continued prioritisation of elite sport appears to have had reduced levels of support; for example, stakeholders have suggested continued prioritisation of elite sport has resulted in a starvation of resources at the non-elite level (Commonwealth of Australia, 1999). Stewart et al. (2004) suggests, despite changing opinion on elite prioritisation, Australia have become so caught up in being a successful sporting nation that developing a new agenda is proving difficult. Furthermore, Evans (2005) explains when a policy has been in place for an extended period of time a county can inhibit path dependency, regardless of superior policy options.
In light of raising levels of obesity and declining levels of physical activity amongst large portions of the world, Finnish sports policies have continued to promote the potential health benefits of regular sports participation (Vuori et al., 2004). In supporting mass participation, an argument can be posed which suggests such policies help support public health. Beyond the physical benefits associated of regular physical activity, sports participation has been associated with the ability to have positive effects on other areas such as; social inclusion, community development, education and more (Houlihan, 1997).
Incorporating participation into Finnish culture has been highlighted as part of a modernisation process which is being implemented to develop welfare (Heikkala et al., 2003). Regardless of generalised concerns about rising obesity and physical inactivity, the political cost of retrenchment from support for elite development is simply too great for elite focused countries (such as Australia) to consider (Stewart et al., 2004).
The doping scandal of 2001, appeared to further reinforce the path of providing extensive sporting opportunities opposed to elite sports performance in Finland (Collins and Green, 2008). The Finnish Sports Federation released the following statement; “No one dares talk about more investment in elite sport, it`s not really a good thing today to talk about elite sport because there are too many problems with doping and cheating…” (Interview: 9th March, 2006).
Pierson (2000) suggests that this statement highlights governmental use of conforming information to support a particular pathway, which is important as it can be considered a crucial part of the legitimisation process. As policy-makers strengthen arguments to support their predisposed pathways, the process of inventing, developing and fine-tuning a course of action to achieve more relevant body of policy becomes less likely (Dryzek, 1983).
Whilst the multi-dimensional focus adopted in the UK provides relative focus to “active citizenship”, when investigated, NGBs identified that elite focused policy initiatives take priority (Green and Houlihan, 2004). Furthermore, it is suggested elite prioritisation will continue to take priority, as a result of shared values and beliefs within the system (Green, 2003). Growing levels of overweight and obese young people are considered as one of the most serious ‘public health challenges of the new century’ (DoH, 2002: 3).
Considering the associated health risks of the “obesity crisis”, it seems unjustified to continue to prioritise elite sport whilst such risks are apparent. However, Esping-Anderson (1990) suggests that the socio-economic and cultural foundations of a country will shape a country regardless of alternative challenges. Due to elite focused mentalities which reside in Australia and the UK, it could prove difficult to promote health focused initiatives (Hoye & Nicholson, 2009). Green and Collins (2008) propose elite prioritisation would seem more rationale if done through a strong commitment to mass participation, however as the return on this method is uncertain it is unlikely to be considered.
Continuing with the “stages model”, the different methods of policy implementation were further considered. Policy implementation can be further understood as the process whereby predisposed policy planning is put into action (Van Meter and Van Horn, 1975). In terms of implementation in Australia, and more recently in the UK, there is a clear demonstration of structure and provision across elite sport (Green and Collins, 2008; Green, 2006). In the development of such structure, a strict emphasis has been placed on success, replicating earlier systems seen in China and East Germany (Green, 2007). Hoberman (1992) proposes, implementing these structures helps create a cross-bodied understanding with regards to the importance of sporting success.
A country`s values to some extent can be demonstrated by the way in which they invest their money (Moore and Starr, 2006). Green and Collins (2008) observe approximately 95% of Australia’s total NSO grant is distributed into elite sport, which that indicates despite increasing efforts to encourage a regime which better accounts for mass participation, this is yet to occur (ASC, 2007). It is also apparent that both Conservative and Labour governments in the UK have promoted, legitimised, and implemented systems which financially prioritise elite sport (Green, 2006). Comparatively, in recent years Finland have only delegated between 6%-8% of available funding directly into elite sport, demonstrating their “sport for all” mentality (Green and Collin, 2008).
Previous research proposes regardless of developments in policy planning, developing actual policy implementation can be difficult because of certain self-reinforced values which are in the system (Howlett and Cashore, 2009). This is demonstrated perhaps most prominently by Australia; despite multiple streams calling for a redistribution of prioritisation, values which are embedded within the system have only resulted in continued prioritisation of elite sport.
Continuing with the “stages model” an evaluation of the various countries took place. An evaluation can be further understood as a process whereby something is deemed to be effective or not (Lucas, 1976). In order to determine the effectiveness of the following policies, this essay draws on, sporting statistics, participation rates and obesity levels; this is because these factors are often considered powerful political drivers (Green and Collins, 2008).
Sporting success In the 2012 Olympic Games, Great Britain exceeded their target of 5th and finished 3rd place in the overall medal count, their best finishing place to date (BBC, 2012a). Australia, who also spent a significant amount on elite sport finished in 10th, achieving 12 gold, 16 silver and 12 bronze medals (Australia Olympic Committee, no date). In far contrast, Finland, finished in 60th place collecting a total of 3 medals, 1 silver and 2 bronze (BBC, 2012b).
Participation rates In undertaking a comparison of the countries participation rates, Finland are shown to be the most active of the three, 34% of adults aged 16-65 and 20% of 65+ meet recommended levels established by the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2013). In addition, 24% of the population attain the ‘sufficient’ category of physical activity, bringing the total to 78% overall. Whilst the UK spent the least amount of the three, 67% of males, and 55% of females are meeting the standard requirements (British Heart Foundation, 2015). This is in stark contrast to Australia, where 60% of the adult population admit to less than 30 minutes of exercise or less per day (Australian Government, 2013). Furthermore, “disadvantaged populations” within Australia demonstrated particularly low activity levels (Australian Government, 2013).