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November 18, 2009

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Australian report on sports irks AOC chief

AUSTRALIA'S Olympic chief has criticized a government-commissioned report that dismissed calls for extra funding for elite sports, saying its recommendations would harm fringe sports and slash the country's medal counts.

The independent report released yesterday, touted by the government as the biggest review of Australia's sports policy in more than a decade, said the country's obsession with medal counts was hurting participation rates and diverting badly needed funding from grassroots sports.

Australian Olympic Committee chief John Coates described the report's assertions as "nonsense" and said its authors were not qualified to make recommendations.

"I think you'll find Australians are immensely proud of our Olympic athletes and Olympic record. Olympians have inspired this nation for decades," Coates said.

Potential slide

The AOC had requested an extra A$100 million (US$93.63 million) for each of the next three years, on top of the current A$140 million budget, to arrest a potential slide down the medal standings.

But the review, which advocated holding elite sports funding at current levels, said the government should give the priority to popular sports with higher participation levels.

"The Panel does not believe that the medal count is an appropriate measure of Australian performance or that 'Top Five' is a sensible target," the report said. "If we are truly interested in a preventative health agenda through sport, then much of it may be better spent on lifetime participants than almost all on a small group of elite athletes who will perform at that level for just a few years."

Coates said that would mean the exclusion of fringe sports, already unable to draw funds through gate receipts or broadcast rights revenues, from the public purse.

"Is he (Crawford) telling us that the gold medals won by the rowers and sailors in Beijing count for nothing?" Coates said. "The message I get from Crawford is that they're going to look at participation, and on that basis, some of our small sports, lower profile sports that have provided Olympic heroes in the past, I think they would be in the gun."

Australia won 46 medals at last year's Beijing Olympics.


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