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Fairfax media slam AOC’s Olympic performance and funding claims
Fairfax media and National Times Chief Sports Columnist Richard Hinds has launched a stinging attack on the Australian Olympic Committee and its President, John Coates.
In his article 'Hard to win medals when turn-Coates takes breath away' published on 9th August, Hinds wrote "there is unlikely to be a moment more utterly gobsmacking than ... Coates declaring the key to an improved performance by Australia was to make sport compulsory in school, and to thus increase participation rates."
Hinds then highlighted how Coates and the AOC "seemingly exercised every political muscle in its successful attempt to bury the findings of the Crawford Report into government sports funding - a report that, among many sensible suggestions, strongly advocated the restoration of physical education in schools."
Hinds continued "this was the John Coates who was dragged before that inquiry, despite the quasi-diplomatic immunity claimed by International Olympic Committee grandees during their luxurious jaunts across the planet.
"The same man whose organisation either cannot, or will not, justify the benefits its generous funding provides the broader community, beyond spurious notions such as the Olympic 'feelgood factor', 'international prestige' and the chest-beating contests with other nations similarly obsessed with the medals table.
"The man whose organisation eventually delivered a 229-page submission to that inquiry that was little more than a longwinded and costly wish list on behalf of elite performers. The AOC's untested, perhaps even self-deluded, claims about its impact on grassroots sports were echoed in London by the Australian team's deputy chef de mission Kitty Chiller.
"In defending Australia's performance, Chiller said: 'There's thousands of kids running around the backyard because of Cathy Freeman. Thousands on a bike because of Cadel Evans'."
Hinds continued "Evans's Tour de France victory, almost certainly, has accelerated already strong growth in cycling. Yet, what little research has been done - none of it by the AOC - suggests the Olympics have no significant impact on participation rates, beyond short-lived spikes in attendance at programs such as Little Athletics.
"Indeed, one study by the Australian centre for Olympic studies at the University of Technology, Sydney, showed that participation by people aged 15-plus in 14 out of 21 Olympic sports decreased after the Sydney Olympics.
"One of the key recommendations of the Crawford Report was to empower individual Olympic sports, and to make them more responsible for their own administration. An eminently sensible conclusion given many of what are, between Olympics, minor sports are run like corner shops compared with the standards achieved by the major football codes.
"But with elite athletes catered for in national and state institutes, and funding for Olympic sports guaranteed under the protective umbrella of the AOC and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), there is little motivation for the administrators of marginal sports to improve those standards. For too many, marching in a blazer behind the national flag at the opening ceremony has been the objective, not merely a benefit.
"As well-meaning and hard-working as many administrators might be, their sports are ill-equipped to recruit and nurture young athletes. Thus, the chance to broaden participation - with the benefit of improved public health and a larger pool from which to identify elite performers - has been lost.
"Apart from some tinkering with the ASC administration, through which Olympic funding is channelled, the Crawford Report was torpedoed. It was a victim of the AOC's aggressive, self-protective lobbying, and opportunistic politicians; the type who can stare down a foreign despot, yet - as the soccer World Cup bid fiasco also proved - go weak at the knees at the sight of a green and yellow tracksuit.
"Indeed, for its impertinence - Coates grandiosely referred to the Crawford Report as 'well-meaning' - the AOC was rewarded with a generous funding increase, taking to $170 million the amount spent on elite athletes by the federal Government each year. Without anything so inconvenient as a cost-benefit analysis required.
"Like its predecessors, the federal government has treated expenditure on Olympic sports mostly as an expensive photo opportunity, rather than a means of tackling important health issues. The sight of Olympic blogger and occasional federal Sports Minister Kate Lundy, cheering and tweeting her heart out in London, does little to suggest that will change.
"In the thrall of the Olympic movement, what chance she will take a copy of the Crawford Report out of the bottom drawer, dust it down and implement findings that have a far greater chance of increasing grassroots participation than throwing yet more money at the AOC poobahs?"
On 8th August, Sydney Morning Herald writer Ben Butler also questioned calls by Coates for more taxpayer funding of elite sports.
Earlier in the week, former Olympian Kevin Gosper, the most senior Australian member of the International Olympic Committee, had also told ABC Local Radio that the Australian team would have won more gold if the Federal Government had not cut its allocation to the Olympic team after the 2009 Crawford review of sports funding.
Gosper stated "there was a suggestion that getting gold medals in the Olympic games was too costly (and) that (has) really cost us. You've got to put money in there. That pays for coaches, it pays for international competition.
"The money is the difference between silver and gold."
Gosper added that the Crawford review had "set us back substantially" in the race for gold."
However, in a news item 'AOC finances good as gold', Butler highlighted AOC accounts as showing the organisation as having assets of $100 million.
Butler wrote "the money, invested in shares and property funds by the related Australian Olympic Foundation, would be enough to fund at least 700 athletes to attend the nation's top school for elite sportsmen and women, the Australian Institute of Sport, for five years."
The foundation was set up in 1996 but it began seriously investing after an $88.5 million injection following the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
After paying a $6.3 million cash distribution to the AOC, the fund had $106 million at the end of last year, down from $115 million the previous year.
The original Sydney Morning Herald article can be read at http://bit.ly/NwIzyt
Images (from top): The London Olympics 2012 site, the Olympic flag and the AOC team brand.
21st August 2012 - BOARD DIVERSITY A KEY TO SPORT MANAGEMENT AND FUNDING
7th August 2012 - SWIMMING AUSTRALIA TO PROBE LONDON MEDAL HAUL
6th August 2012 - AOC’S COATES CALLS FOR IMPROVEMENTS TO SCHOOL SPORT
25th July 2011 - CADEL EVANS CONGRATULATED ON TOUR DE FRANCE GLORY
5th May 2010 - FEDS TO BACKTRACK ON CRAWFORD RECOMMENDATIONS?
28th October 2009 - COATES DEMANDS FEDERAL MONEY FOR SPORT
25th August 2008 - DASH FOR OLYMPIC SPORTING CASH?
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