The departure of Australian Sports Commission head Mark Peters is being interpreted as evidence of the growing influence of Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates as the Government moves to both review sports funding and remove the last traces of the Howard era from the ASC.

In May, five Howard-era appointees to the ASC, including Alan Jones, were not renewed, and former staffer for Labor sports minister John Brown, Greg Hartung, was made Deputy Chairman. Chairman Peter Bartels — former Coles Myer chief and close friend of Peter Costello — is not expected to continue beyond the end of this year. Hartung is well placed to succeed him as Chairman of the commission he originally led as CEO from 1984-88. Hartung is currently head of the Australian Paralympic Committee.

An enhanced role for Coates, who is close to the Labor Government, and the AOC does not augur well for sports funding. Sports insiders say the AOC itself, which despite its public image actually provides little in the way of sports funding, is part of the problem, soaking up sponsorship money that could otherwise be directed straight to sports and using it for corporate largesse including extensive international travel for the likes of Coates and IOC members Kevan Gosper and Phil Coles. The AOC’s focus is on a small number of Olympic sports rather the ASC’s broader focus, and particularly its focus on participation and community sport.

Insiders say Peters’s main failing at the ASC was an inability to effectively lobby for sports funding, relying on Alan Jones and Bartels to convince the Howard Government of the case for more funding. The Commission received no additional funding in the final Howard Government Budget.

Jones has had an ongoing feud with Coates, who successfully sued Jones over comments arising from the Sally Robbins affair in Athens. Jones also apologised to Coates last year over comments relating to the Beijing Olympics.

One of the key sports funding issues is the need to increase mass participation, particularly at school levels. The Howard Government kicked off the Active After Schools program, which was a good start but needed more funding to make a significant dent in issues like childhood obesity. Handing more power to the AOC might yield more gold in London, but is unlikely to ensure we get the real benefits of sports funding, in a long-term reduction in the rate of increase of health care costs.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey