The adage “if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got” seems appropriate for the new “independent expert panel” recently announced by the Federal Sports Minister to review Australian sport.

Even since the low point in Australia’s 112 years of Olympic performances, the Montreal Games in 1976, every Australian Government has been confronted following every Games with a deafening request for more funding to “ensure continuing success”.

And without fail, every Australian Government since that time, has responded by providing more funding for elite sport. The question Ellis should be putting is “are there alternatives”, because clearly creating even greater dependence on the Federal budget is not a great option.

Since Malcolm Fraser’s decision to establish the Australian Institute of Sport, the Australian sports system has moved increasingly to a centralised command and control model. Indeed under the Howard Government, it became arguably the most central government controlled system in the world — a model last seen under the old Soviet Bloc nations and most notably, the GDR (East Germany). This had disastrous consequences for thousands of children who were conscripted and forced into controlled doping programs.

Fortunately, following the Senate Inquiry into Drugs in Sport in Australia in 1988-9, which found evidence of rogue coaches and squads at the AIS and in feeder programs involved in doping, every Australian Government has recognised that risk, and supported an independent and robust anti-doping program.

The UK Government has been modelling its sports system on the Australian model — national institutes of sport in each of the home countries and greater central policy making through UK Sport (a type of statutory authority) but increased funding via a national sports lottery, not the Government budget.

The Federal and state/territory governments have been pumping in a lot of budget revenue into sport for the past two decades. The Queensland Government alone recently stated it had provided $12m since the Athens Games to just one sport in that state — swimming. A published analysis by a South Australian academic following the Sydney Games showed that each Gold medal in Sydney cost $40m when factoring in all government funding to elite sport.

There is no doubt that this level of funding has brought success at successive Olympic Games, and internationally we are consistently in the top ten nations overall and on a per capita basis. So on the basis that more nations are replicating our system and high levels of funding (even outdoing us), Ellis might be forgiven for thinking she simply needs a case for more.

Hopefully she might also ask the Review for a serious response to questions including:

  • How to arrest declining participation rates in school and community sport?
  • How to encourage and support more volunteers to run community sport?
  • How sport can be part of tackling childhood obesity and mental illness?
  • How can sport be more affordable and accessible for children from disadvantaged and lower socio-economic groups?

Beyond winning medals on the world stage, Federal sports policy needs to be a lot more than it’s been.

Got an opinion on what should be done? Discuss it at Crikey’s health forum, Croakey, here.

John Mendoza is a former CEO of the Australian Sports Drug Agency

Peter Fray

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