Funding science through sport

The Socceroos are not making nearly enough money. And neither is research.

It has been said that it’s a shame research doesn’t draw the same financial interest as spectator sports since it gives so much more to communities in the longer term. But maybe research can rely on sport for funding.

Spectator sports know how to draw the crowds. A clear conflict, clear rules and a clear winner. Not to mention the inherent comradery of team supporters. It unites people. It moves people. And so many people are willing to spend their hard-earned cash in exchange for a couple of hours of entertainment.

Research, on the other hand, is not a spectator sport. At least not when things are running smoothly. Can sport be a way of funding research?

Different research teams around the world are so often competing against each other to achieve a Greater Goal – a new vaccine for malaria, a low fat cheese that actually tastes good, and so many more. Is it therefore an oversight that SportsBet have no tally for these groups? To be fair, this is hardly a quick flutter for punters. Any winnings may only be paid out in retirement. Or bequeathed to their grandkids.

Many research teams in the same country are also vying the same meagre pool of research funds. Betting on which of the massive number of applications will actually go ahead will provide a better chance of collecting winnings in the same lifetime. Of course the odds of winning are only slightly better than the lottery in some cases and with potentially less payout.

This still doesn’t address the issue of science not being a spectator sport. Unless it is an episode of Mythbusters where Big Things Are Blown Up in spectacular fashion for the good of science. Or one of those science shows where the genius presenter can only possibly explain that particular phenomenon by travelling to Madagascar. And Brazil. After a quick stint in Canada. Brian Cox has this gig nailed.

This still lacks the necessary team factor to move and unite an audience. So we need another strategy.

How about funnelling some of the millions of dollars spent on sports players each year into a research fund? A new fund that could provide ongoing support for important research that doesn’t inspire donation drives, like the increasingly desperate need for new antibiotics. It need only be a small percent of the team salaries to produce a decent-sized pool of funding because, despite what the Socceroos have been saying this week, players get paid very well compared to the rest of us.

Research is for the benefit of people and funding largely comes from passively from tax dollars. Linking research to sport provides a more consistent, reliable and active* contribution to research funding. It may even give people more awareness of the great research that being carried out for their benefit.

*See what I did there?


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