Every Olympian gets a medal?
The Independent Sport Panel has just reported to Sports Minister Kate Ellis after a year-long look at our national pastime. Aside from some recommendations about restructuring and administration, it had two key questions that go straight to the heart of our sporting spirit - what’s the definition of success and which sports are important?
Panel chair David Crawford said we might need to kiss goodbye our ambitions to a top five Olympic ranking. “The Panel strongly believes the public needs to be educated to think differently about what constitutes Olympic success,” the report overview says.
He also listed the sports the Panel defined as carrying the “national ethos.” They were Swimming, tennis, cricket, cycling, the football codes, netball, golf, hockey, basketball, surfing and surf lifesaving. “If more money is to be injected into the system then we must give serious consideration to where that money is spent.”
The guts of the report makes some interesting observations about our sporting priorities to now.
The bias towards funding Olympic sports leads to outcomes that make little strategic sense for Australia. For example, more government funds are provided for archery than cricket which has more than 100 times the number of participants, according to unpublished ASC data. Water polo receives as much high performance and Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) funding as golf, tennis and lawn bowls combined - even though these sports can right claim to be ‘whole of lifetime’ sports and significant contributors to the Australian Government’s preventative health agenda.
Australia’s medal ranking in Beijing was sixth - a very creditable result and our third best performance in 30 years. This resulted in 14 gold medals and 46 medals in total and whichever way the maths is done, the result is very expensive. The ASC’s funding to Olympic sports for their elite programs runs at over $60 million per year and this does not include state and territory funding or Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) contributions. Over four year cycles, it is easy to derive figures in the order of $15 million per gold medal or $4 million per medal.
It is also vital that Australia’s medal targets are realistic ... The relevant NSOs and AOC and the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) have put together a case for an additional $109 million per year on average on the basis that this is required to sustain Australia as a ‘Top Five’ medal count nation.
Are they right? Is medal count relevant? In an Olympic down-year such as this cool heads on our shoulders might say “sure, medal counts don’t matter.” But would we give the same answer in 2012 when where having our backsides whooped by Canada, or the Netherlands?
Here’s potentially the most tricky part of what the Panel is proposing.
The Panel recommends some general parameters for these targets. We should aspire to and be proud of, say, ‘Top Eight’ results for some chosen sports and the Olympics and have higher aspirations in others.
In examining the definition of success the Panel also looked at which sports are really important.
There should be a debate about which sports carry the national ethos. Swimming, tennis, cricket, cycling, the football codes, netball, golf, hockey, basketball, surfing and surf lifesaving are among the most popular sports in Australia, a part of the national psyche. Many are team sports and are the sports we are introduced to as part of our earliest education and community involvement.
Now there’s a debate that could go on for years.
For now, two questions:
A - do we need to lower our sights and put up with less Olympic medals?
B - which sports are most important to our ongoing national self-esteem?
As an aside, the Panel did not recommend the introduction of a HECS-style scheme for graduates of the Australian Institute of Sport, which was canvassed here on The Punch by Sports Minister Kate Ellis in June.
The Minister said the Government would respond to the recommendations in the new year.
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