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Australia Set For Tougher Funding Model

Feb 4, 2013  - Craig Lord

The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) is set to adopt a "more ruthless" approach to the financing elite sports when it releases its next set of funding figures within the next two months.

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, ASC chairman John Wylie points to "tough decisions being made by competitors such as Great Britain, which recently cut high-performance funding to sports such as swimming after disappointing results at the 2012 Olympics". 

Australia, he says, will take the same approach, for while the Dolphins remain significantly more successful than a Britain much improved in the pool over the past 12 years, Britain has made fabulous progress across a number of sports on its way to overtaking Australia in the league of Olympic nations at the past two Games will take a similar approach.

"We are up against hard-nosed competitors," Wylie says. "If we continue with the status quo and do what we have done in the past, we not only won't improve our position [in terms of international sporting results], we will go backwards. The sports understand that expectations are going up."

Wylie tells reporter John Stensholt that the ASC wants a radical restructuring of the way Olympic events attract sponsorship dollars. Those efforts may include centralised athlete contracts aimed at wooing corporate backing.

The central government, through the ASC and now the Australian Institute of Sport, provides elite sport with $170 million in annual funding, the Review notes.

Under the Australia's Winning Edge 2012-2022 plan, revealed in December last year, a greater share of the funds will go to the sports that have the best chance of winning or at least performing well on the world stage.

There are complexities within the model, including consideration of where best to place support within a range of ages and talent. For example, is it best to fund a 30-year-old who was once a big medal winner, is still national top 2 but struggles to make the podium on the biggest of occasions - or should the 14-year-old breaking Thorpean junior marks get the bulk of the backing?

The Australian goal is to finish :in the top five in the Olympics and Paralympics medal tallies, top 15 at the Winter Olympics, first at the Commonwealth Games, plus generally producing 20 world champions annually".

Swimming will play a key role in that count, the federation Down Under - having secured Aus$10m over the next four years via Georgina Hope Foundation Chair Gina Rinehart, an Australian mining tycoon - has already gone a decent way to fulfilling one of Wylie's wishes: that sports work to attract private sponsorship funds.

Wylie expresses his disappointment in the Review that "the percentage of funds from sponsorship has fallen from an average of 20 per cent of revenue in 2000 to about 3 per cent". It is not the money that counts but what you do with the money, as British Swimming's experience shows, swimmers in Britain also pressing for a bigger involvement in decision-making with a view to narrowing the gap between the coal face and a board that has needed no hard hat because it survives whether the swimmer wins or loses.

Wylie adds: "If you want to represent Australia in athletics or swimming, for example, there will be a standard contract to sign with provisions in it that are similar to cricket, where the national body has priority [with sponsors]. The objective is that if there is a stronger sponsorship offering the sports can take to sponsors there will be more money for the sport, for the athletes, for coaches."

Whether it is correct to call Australia's new model "more ruthless" is relative to what else is out there in the world in which the Dolphins must compete.

USA Swimming's model of funding sets out very clearly what is expected of swimmers who expect federation support beyond any private backing that they may attract or be eligible to receive (NCAA amateur rules preventing many young swimmers in the US from having access to earnings that their peers in the rest of the world have access too, the positives in that "choice/self-determination" and "hunger", in a manner of speaking).