30 May 2016
By AIS Director, Matt Favier
We should all have huge respect for the pioneers who made the brave decision to revolutionise Australian sport and create the AIS in 1981.
History has proven their leadership to be right because, as time went on, the AIS established itself as a world-class organisation that became the envy and blueprint of many international sporting systems.
But if Australia wants to remain a leader in the contemporary sporting world, we needed change.
Any decision to change is tough, but the choice for Australian high performance sport was clear: show leadership and shake things up, like we did in 1981, or fall further behind the rest of the world.
So at the end of 2012 the AIS introduced a new strategy, Australia’s Winning Edge.
It’s understandable some people are apprehensive, it is the biggest strategic shift since the creation of the AIS.
But we are confident it’s the right approach and results over the past three years give us an indication it’s already making a positive difference. Since London 2012 we have celebrated 34 world champions in Olympic disciplines and 70 in Paralympic disciplines.
All pre-Olympic analysis – ours at the AIS, the Australian Olympic Committee’s, and independent international predictions - points to an improvement on the gold medal tally in Rio. It would be the first improvement since Athens 2004.
Australia is well positioned for Rio, so why be nervous about a strategy that is yielding results in its early stages and has not yet been given a chance to reach its full potential?
We are yet to even reach the first Olympic Games as part of Winning Edge, a 10-year-strategy. Sports and athletes are adapting remarkably well, let’s support them.
Let’s revisit why the AIS was formed in the first place.
Australian Olympic sport hit rock-bottom in 1976 with no gold medals at the Montreal Olympics.
The creation of the AIS was not without strong criticism, but steadily it built a reputation for success.
At the first two Olympics after the creation of the AIS, Australia won four and three gold medals respectively. None of the medallists were based at the AIS in Canberra. What would have happened if the AIS was shut down then and labelled a failure?
Instead, the AIS was founded on an ambition of achieving long-term sustainable success. This is the legacy we are aiming to continue at the AIS now and into the future.
The rich history of the AIS has helped create an expectation of success in Australian Sport, highlighted by the Sydney 2000 Games.
Consider that Australia won seven gold medals at Barcelona in 1992, placing us tenth on the gold medal tally. It was regarded as a hugely successful performance.
Australia achieved the very same result at London 2012, but it was widely regarded as disappointing. Times and expectations have changed.
London was certainly not a Montreal moment but, given the downward trend of results over time, it was clear that intervention was needed before things got worse.
Winning Edge was not a knee-jerk reaction to results in London. It had been carefully considered well before its implementation and was a deliberate strategy. But the London performance, the worst in 20 years, did provide the catalyst for change.
It has given our high performance sporting system a clear definition of success. We didn’t set easy targets, instead we have bold aspirations, supported by peak bodies like the AOC, the Australian Paralympic Committee and the Australian Commonwealth Games Association. We are working towards a top-five Olympic finish. Can we get there in Rio? It is a tough task, a result Australia has only achieved four times in modern Olympic history.
There is far more to Winning Edge. The AIS has stopped running scholarship programs, but the Canberra campus remains a national training centre for high performance.
Some 150 athletes base their training at the AIS in Canberra and 11 sports choose to base their own centres of excellence at the campus.
The AIS’s Canberra campus has always had a mix of permanent and camps-based activity. It complements high performance programs based around the country, such as hockey in Perth, track cycling in Adelaide, sailing in Sydney, diving in Brisbane and kayaking and triathlon on the Gold Coast.
The AIS can now have influence on more athletes. It is accessible to all sports, we can host more camps for national squads rather than having a restricted domain for scholarship holders.
In the build up to Rio we have hosted, and continue to host, national camps across all sports: swimming, rowing, cycling, athletics, water polo, basketball, boxing, wrestling, judo, taekwondo, synchronised swimming, volleyball, gymnastics and more.
Last year the AIS recorded 45,000 bed-nights dedicated to high performance sport camps. That’s an increase of 10 per cent and equates to an average of more than 120 people a night.
Winning Edge makes sports more accountable for their funding and performance, but the AIS is intent on helping build the capacity of sports. Like our brilliant athletes, we are focused on outcomes.
The Australian Sports Commission and AIS has reduced staff by 35 per cent since 2011 to enable more investment directly to sport.
The AIS has provided $340million in direct grants to Summer Olympic Sports this four-year Olympic cycle, an increase of more than 10 per cent. In addition, we have provided more than $41million in direct grants to some 1100 athletes across Olympic and Paralympic sport. This compares favourably to the 700 AIS scholarship athletes supported at its peak, around the 2000 Games.
The AIS has focused on building coaching and leadership development to ensure Australia’s expertise is spread far and wide across the nation. We are putting more focus on development pathways for younger athletes, tracking more than 2000 athletes who have the potential to reach a world-class podium in the next eight to 10 years.
The AIS is in regular communication with sports and athletes and the feedback is overwhelmingly supportive. Results of the latest annual sector survey in 2015 showed 95 per cent of sports agreed “the AIS demonstrated strong leadership of Australian high performance sport”.
We are open to constructive feedback and are on a journey of refining what we do, something we’d expect of any high performing agency.
It’s why we have invited input from an external panel of passionate and informed people with a breadth of knowledge and ideas that can challenge the AIS to be its very best.
It’s our responsibility to ensure the AIS and our national sport system remains on top of the game.
Rio is not a referendum on the success of Winning Edge. There is no doubt it is an important milestone, but regardless of results we’ll keep challenging ourselves to aim high. We’ll do so guided by contemporary thinking.