Faster, higher, stronger

As the Olympics circus packs up its tent for another four years, sports-mad Australians are left to contemplate a lighter medal haul than anticipated, alongside a sinking spot on the medal tally board.

While our less-than-impressive efforts at the velodrome and on the track have us shaking our heads, the British press are singing the praises of Old Blighty, pointing out that their athletes had shown “what can be achieved with dedication, good coaching and sensible funding”.

And there’s the rub.  Should we really be surprised when a massive financial investment in sport yields results?  And should we marvel when economic powerhouses such as China, with its huge population, and the US, with its combination of high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and population, top the medal table? 

A high population provides a strong base from which to draw talent – whether it’s athletes or technologists.  GDP is a good indicator of a country’s prosperity, with affluent countries more likely to have the spare cash to invest in elite sports systems (or technology infrastructure, as the case may be).

But my question is this: will Australians ever experience the same sense of bruised national pride as we slip further down the global technology leader board?

There are dozens of ways to measure the competitiveness of a country’s ICT capacity, but the Global Information Technology Report, released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in April is a good yardstick. 

The Report uses the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), covering a total of 127 economies in 2007-2008, to measure each nation’s degree of preparation to participate in and benefit from ICT developments.  The NRI assesses the economy’s ICT environment, readiness of key stakeholders and ICT usage.

And, according to WEF, Australia is nowhere near medal contention.

Top of the league this year was Denmark – which won only two gold at Beijing, but grabbed the WEF gold for the second year in a row.  Close behind was Sweden (despite just four silver medals and a bronze in Beijing), Switzerland (two gold medals), the United States (runner up at the Olympics, with 36 gold medals) and Singapore (just one silver medal). Australia came in at number 14.

So, what’s more important for our future success?  Is it golden moments in the pool or world-beating high technology performances?

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