Olympic Funding Cuts Spark Backlash

Sam Buckingham Jones, The Australian

Two of Australia’s most senior sports officials have savaged a new strategy to fund the nation’s sports, saying it amounts to cuts that will damage Australia’s chances at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Matt Carroll and Athletics Australia, president Mark Arbib said the new funding model announced by the Australian Sports Commission yesterday rewarded and punished sports without justification and lacked the transparency of old strategies.

The Australian Institute of Sport defended the new $105 million-a-year framework, saying the vast majority of Olympic and Paralympic sports would, in an unprecedented move, have their current funding guaranteed for the next two years.

From January, 12 high-performance programs will get a $6.7m funding boost, the AIS said.

Australian women’s soccer will get an $800,000 increase over two years, rugby sevens will get $605,000 and women’s softball will get $400,000.

Of the 45 to 50 high-performance sports funded by the AIS, 40 have had their funding secured to Tokyo 2020.

Diving, men’s hockey and shooting will get extra funding, but athletics, water polo, volleyball and gymnastics have been asked to justify a portion of their funding.

Mr Arbib, a former Labor senator, said Athletics Australia had been guaranteed 80 per cent of its current annual funding from next financial year but must demonstrate why it should receive the additional 20 per cent.

He said it was “insulting” for Sports Australia to laud the funding changes, which may well impact the junior levels of athletics.

“It’s a very disappointing day for Australian athletics. To receive a 20 per cent cut in our budget two years out from the Tokyo Games is a disaster. It makes things very perilous for athletes, coaches and our athletics community,” he said.

“Only seven months ago our Aussie athletics team topped the medal tally on the Gold Coast at the Commonwealth Games, beating powerhouses like England, Kenya and Jamaica. This decision does not make sense.’’

Mr Arbib described the new funding system as “harsher” and more blatantly medal-focused, and said it was difficult for sporting bodies to plan with only 80 per cent of funding guaranteed.

“To cut 20 per cent of a budget overnight and say we should be thankful for it is insulting to the athletics community,” he said.

“It’s a slap in the face. We will have to look at cutting programs supporting up-and-coming athletes and community programs.”

Mr Carroll said Sport Australia’s funding had been reduced by 20 per cent over the past eight years and there was “not enough money” for Australian sport.

“We are realistic. Sports need to be accountable and there is only so much money to go around but it is very difficult to plan and produce high performance in this environment,” he said.

“The return is a significant community health dividend along with the benefits that Australian athletes performing on the international stage bring, such as national pride, inspiration to youth and social cohesion.”

AIS director Peter Conde said no final decisions had been made about athletics, water polo, volleyball and gymnastics, and said the strategy replaced the old Winning Edge plan: “Our role is to carefully manage application of public funding.

“This money has to go a long way. It’s high-performance funding, it does have to be related to performance.”



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