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Kieren Perkins opens World Class to World Best conference in Canberra

31 October 2023

Kieren Perkins, CEO of the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), gives the opening address at World Class to World Best, the nation’s premier sport conference. The AIS campus in Canberra is hosting almost 400 of the best and brightest from across the Australian high performance sport system.

Kieren Perkins behind a lectern, in front of a blue screen.
ASC CEO Kieren Perkins opens the World Class to World Best conference at the AIS in Canberra.

World Class to World Best: Day 1 Highlights

I wish to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet today, the Ngunnawal people, and to pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I wish to also recognise the outstanding contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make to society and sport in Australia and to celebrate the power of sport to promote reconciliation and reduce inequality.

Good morning and thank you for joining us at World Class to World Best 2023.

Thank you for prioritising these moments to come together- not just today, but over the past 18 months as we’ve laid the foundations for the HP2032+ Sport Strategy and set our collective vision: We win well to inspire Australians.

We are the architects of something that can be the envy of the world.

An inclusive and sustainable sporting system.

That will be home to people of all backgrounds.

Mid-way through Horizon 1- the first of our 4 Horizons, I think we are in pretty good shape.

But we still have plenty of work to do, and the next three days is a great opportunity to refine and extend the foundations of this strategy.

Because you can look to your left and look to your right and know you are surrounded by world class people as we gather here at the AIS.

This year we’ve had more than 5000 athletes, coaches and support staff come through the AIS Campus, with 185 camps across 32 different sports.

Over the next few days, you will hear from some of our High Performance, coaching and medical teams.

You will also hear from world-leading scientists and academics on topics we all need to give time to- such as optimising skill development; the intersection of female athlete considerations; or Esports.

We will deep dive into the significant issues facing the Sport Sector: such as concussion management; and the lack of Women in High Performance Coaching which drains the sector of talent. Less than 10% of the top 36 funded High Performance sports have women head coaches- we can and must do better.

You will hear from several athletes and leaders across Summer and Winter sports and the National Institute Network, as well as representatives from the NRL, AFL and one I am particularly excited about- Australia’s Chief of Army.

Part of the conversation I’ll have with Lieutenant General Simon Stuart will focus on the siege mentality we can embrace- working together, Australia versus the world, and being adaptable.

One thing I am constantly challenged by is that paradox between whether there is anything particularly special about what we do in sport- when compared to the very real challenges of our time.

None of us here are fixing the global issues we face, but what we do and how we do it still matters greatly.

And stories like this one between Paralympics champion Ellie Cole and seven year old Mia is a great example of this.

Mia was 7 when she saw Ellie being celebrated at her local Woolworths during the Tokyo Games. Finally, Mia had a role model that looked like her.

As Ellie said: “this is why we do what we do”.

As fellow Swimming champion Ian Thorpe  said: “this is what humanity should be about.”

Ellie finally met Mia last week, where she shared the message: Broken crayons still colour.

Ellie will go on to host Channel Nine’s Olympic and Paralympic coverage- something she lists as one of the greatest honours of her life to cover the Olympics, as well as the Paralympics.

And incidentally, Ellie will get a test run of hosting, as co-host of our AIS Sport Performance Awards later this year with Olympian Matt Denny. Where, for the first time, able and para athletes of the year will receive their ASPAs awards together. AIS Athlete Advisory Committee Chairman, Kurt Fearnley knew celebrating athletes equally would significantly enhance belonging for the Para community.

So yes, what we do on and around the sporting field isn’t life or death, but it matters greatly.

It matters that sport has a place for everyone and delivers results that make Australia proud.

It matters that the sport sector is more open, inclusive and truly representative of a modern, progressive, and diverse Australia.

All Australians must see themselves in their sporting heroes, helping to promote national pride, drive sport participation, and increase our talent pool.

No matter what sport you represent, the adolescent participation cliff is very real. Our AusPlay data shows us that when Aussie kids are aged nine to 11, three out of four play organised sport. By the time they reach 18-24, that percentage is down to one in four.

Next month, we will launch Australia’s first National Sport Participation Strategy- another co-designed, critical piece of work which complements the Win Well strategy.

“Play Well” is aimed at transforming the way sport participation is connected, delivered, and supported across Australia.

At the very heart of this work is ensuring we are creating safe, welcoming, inclusive and fun sporting experiences so we can engage more participants in sport in ways that suit them.

The strategy will be the first of its kind in Australia and I’m looking forward to seeing the positive impact it has on the sector.

In my experience, it takes many hands to make impact. And I know how much work has gone into this strategy across the sector since January.

On behalf of the Commission, thank you to everyone who has shared their time and experience and collaborated on this vital part of the green and gold runway.

Nobody here needs reminding of the opportunity that Brisbane 2032 represents.

It is an extraordinary chance to develop outstanding people and strengthen athlete performance pathways.

But how do we establish a culture that attracts and retains the world’s best people and athletes?

For starters, I feel incredibly fortunate to have four diverse keynote speakers join us over the next few days to directly address our commitment to excellence, belonging, courage and connection.

Half of them have been named Australian of the Year. And the other half could well be on their way.

They went from World Class to World Best.

And that’s what we all need to do to maximise the green and gold decade of opportunity.

I think for anyone, no matter what our name tag says, days like this should stretch us. They should make us take a breath before the rubber hits the road. To really question if we are doing everything as best we can: with ‘best’ defined not by whether we win, but how we win. By how much we drive excellence, belonging, courage and connection.

Beyond the inspiration which these keynotes will conjure up, what are the tangible steps you can take to make sure no stone is unturned?

Is there something we can do at the AIS to optimise performance?

Our AIS Engineering team has completed over 250 equipment projects and are currently working on:

New chairs for our World Champion Wheelchair Rugby Team, the Steelers

Optimising boats for our rowers

Upgrades to triathlon equipment

All of these projects were funded by us through our Paris Stream 2 Funding.

The unique offerings of the AIS Campus here in Canberra have never been more important to the Australians sport sector, and this will continue to develop.

The new altitude residence that’s due for completion in late 2024 is an example of the world leading facilities on offer.

It will have living and sleeping spaces for larger groups of para and able-bodied athletes. The ability to train at altitude will provide the best possible environment to maximise performance. It’s facilities like this that set apart the AIS from anything else in the Southern Hemisphere.

And if your team needs additional support in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve got you covered there too...

As we look to 2024 with most sports making their final qualifications and preparations in Europe, we’re fortunate to have the AIS European Training Centre near Milan. Its ability to support Summer sports has never been more relevant.

This year we increased the accommodation at the ETC so more athletes from more sports can use it.

For rowing it’s a “home away from home” for months, for athletics and cycling it’s a “drop-in” centre for a few days between events for recovery and some vegemite on toast.

With a network of high performance centres, medical contacts and consulate support throughout Europe, remember the team at the ETC are available to help you plan, solve problems and deliver world’s best support to your athletes when in Europe.

So I encourage you to reach out if they can help you in your European campaigns and it can be your home away from home.

Which brings me back to those foundations.

Of that home that we’re building.

Whilst I know that everyone in this room is on the same page, we need to ensure that we continue to refine and extend the foundations of the High Performance 2032+ Sport Strategy.

Our organisations must be environments where everyone thrives.

We also need to engage our athletes and socialise the High Performance 2032+ Sport Strategy so the vision: “We win well to inspire Australians” is something ALL athletes feel a genuine connection to.

So they are inspired by the performance and wellbeing of one another.

This home that we’re building, it’s going to be home to the world’s best sporting system.

I absolutely believe that.

I look forward to sharing time together over the next few days- and to keep coming back to this event year in, year out, only getting better.

Thank you for your time and your ongoing support.

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