01 August 2016
By John Wylie, ASC Chair
The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has a privileged position in Australian sport. It has the responsibility of spending taxpayer money to help our kids participate in sport and, in the case of our best athletes, enabling them to pursue their dreams on the world stage.
The challenge for the ASC is to manage the many competing ways that funding can be spent. While opinions on this will differ, on one point all would concur: however it is spent, it should produce an outcome. This is accentuated by the fact that it is public money.
With this is mind, the ASC has been very clear about the outcomes it is trying to achieve for Australia. More Australian athletes winning. More Australians playing sport. Thriving sporting organisations. All measurable, all meaningful, and of course, all contestable.
As the Rio Games near and with a home Commonwealth Games following soon after, there is rightly a greater focus on spending of elite sport. The ASC is committed to its public accountability and is today releasing a breakdown on what is invested in high performance sports, including comparing the four year cycles before the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games. An analysis of this data reveals some important facts.
Funding to sports for high performance has increased: Direct funding to sports and athletes over the past four years is 12 per cent higher than it was over the same period leading into the London Games. While the distribution of funding has shifted in line with the ASC’s Australia’s Winning Edge strategy, a large majority of sports have benefited from this increase. Not shown in the charts but equally important is that direct AIS support to athletes through its dAIS scheme has increased to 1025 athletes compared to the 603 athletes supported for London. This increase has been enabled through the ASC streamlining its operations and generating efficiencies, with savings passed on to sports and athletes
Winning is important but not the sole criterion for investment: Clearly the AIS’s outcomes should include measuring success by reference to 'winning' or 'pursuing winning'. Not winning was the very reason why the AIS exists, even if the gold-medal-bereft Montreal Games are now 40 years old.
But the AIS approach is balanced by the need to support the rich diversity and breadth of Australian sport. The support of 35 sports is testament to this commitment. Further, that there are more than 10 sports that have not secured an Olympic medal since 2000 (and some that have never won one) provides compelling evidence that Winning Edge investment is not just about winning, but also the pursuit of excellence.
Swimming is the standard bearer for Australia’s success on the world stage: Australian success at the Olympics, Paralympics and Commonwealth Games need strong performances by our swimmers. Since 2000 swimming has accounted for between 30-40 per cent of all medals, with the exception of a blip in London. Rio will be no different. In part this reflects the affinity with and natural advantages Australia has in the sport. Think about our access to pools, the emphasis on learn-to-swim and our rich history of success in the sport. Swimming receives about 10 per cent of total funding over the cycle. While it is Australia’s largest funded sport by the AIS, this figure suggests that our dominance in the pool has not been at the expense of investing in other sports. Rather swimming sets a standard for what can be achieved.
The AIS is a big supporter of team sport: The data released today shows that the AIS is a big supporter of Australian team sport. In Rio Australia will have 10 teams competing – more than double New Zealand (4), Great Britain (5) and Canada (4). While team sports represent only 5 per cent of the total golds on offer in Rio, nearly 25 per cent of all AIS funding supports our teams. We are proud of this commitment despite it being contrary to what would be a more ruthless strategy of only pursuing individual medals as a means of moving up the tally.
Winning Edge has benefited both large and small sports: While larger sports tend to receive a greater proportion of total funding, under Winning Edge small sports have also been beneficiaries of a change in strategy. The figures released show that over the Rio cycle, 22 of the 29 Olympic summer sports have had more funding. This has included a large number of smaller sports like shooting, water polo, diving and canoeing.
The way in which funding is allocated to sports will always arouse debate and differing views. The Australian Government’s commitment to funding high performance sport started in 1981 and continues to the present day.
The ASC is committed to being an outcomes-focused, publicly-accountable organisation. One thing is for sure: every athlete who competes for Australia in Rio will have received support – directly and/or indirectly – from the public purse.
For that reason alone it is fair to say that this truly is Australia’s team.