Sinister figures clutching copies of The Road to Serfdom and
carrying flaming brands are gathering outside the Australian Institute
of Sport… Well, not quite – but we seem to have a pretty good debate
starting up.

As we asked yesterday, if the union movement’s been nobbled, student
trots have been lumped with VSU and virtually everything that can be privatised has been privatised,
why are we running a state sports system that reeks of East Germany in
the 1970s? Where are all the voices of liberty in the Liberal Party on
the subject?

“Well said. As sheltered workshops go, it’s undoubtedly the most
unjustifiable institution in the country,” one subscriber says. “I
wouldn’t mind it so much if there were a realistic HECS-style charge at
the end of it, where some of our more spoilt precious little things
were required to repay a proportion of their earnings, but I can’t see
that happening.”

A sports insider begs to differ:

Money in sport? You have to be joking! There’s money
(mainly tele dollars) for all the brands of football, for cricket, for
tennis and a little for basketball. But get real – there’s little or no
private money for elite level archery, volleyball, rowing, cycling
(except in Europe), canoeing, athletes, sport for the disabled,
gymnastics, squash, triathlon, softball…

So if Australia wants to compete at an elite level in a vast majority
of Olympic sports, the only way to do it is through using taxpayers’
money, but using it efficiently and effectively. You might not like it
personally, but you are in a minority. The hundreds of thousands of
kids who play these sports and who want to get a chance to show off
their skills at the international level – as well as their families and
friends and people who love watching sport – all do.

I’m sure the AIS would welcome you to come out for a day and meet some
of the scientists and coaches and athletes and learn what an amazing
contribution the AIS and the ASC makes, not just to elite athletes, but
to sports people at all levels, as well as the medical breakthroughs
they develop in concert with Australia’s leading hospitals that flow on
to society in general.

I expect you to now write a longer piece criticising the vast amount of
taxpayers’ money that is spent on the arts – many, many times the amount
that is spent on sport.

But the indefatigable Vern Hughes, a long-time Crikey follower and now
the Executive Director of Social Enterprise Partnerships has this to

Thanks for your terrific little piece on the AIS. To
complete the absurdity of the situation, remember that the minister
overseeing this system is Rod Kemp, one time ideologue in the Institute
of Public Affairs who once advocated something resembling limited
government. What does it say about the philosophical integrity of the
Libs that even their people with the strongest small government
background, like the Kemp brothers, end up in Canberra dispensing
taxpayers’ money on sportspeople (Rod) and artists (David). Rod’s other
ministerial achievement was to conduct a government-led restructure of
the sport of soccer, with significant taxpayer funding of the
restructured Football Federation Australia and official sponsorship by
the AIS of the Socceroos. If anything belongs in civil society it is
sport – but not apparently in the thinking of Australian Liberals.