Australia sports chief calls for UK-style lottery funding
Governing bodies seek investment boost amid soul-searching over Olympic decline
They enjoy one of the world’s great rivalries but after a disappointing Olympic Games this summer Australia’s sporting elite is looking to its “old enemy” for inspiration by calling for an UK-style national lottery to fund sport.
“We are on a burning deck in terms of our international performance,” John Wylie, chairman of the Australian Sports Commission, said on Monday.
“If we are to remain competitive internationally, if we are going to have a healthy and active society, we need to invest significantly more in the system.”
Mr Wylie’s call was backed by the Australian Olympic committee, Swimming Australia and Athletics Australia, amid soul searching about Australia’s performance this summer in Rio, where it won 29 medals—its lowest tally since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
In contrast, Britain won 67 medals, including 27 golds, its best Olympics’ performance in a century.
For years Australians have prided themselves on their prowess across a wide range of sports from cricket and rugby to swimming. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000 Australia won a record 58 medals, which ranked it fourth on the medals’ table.
But the country’s performances have become more erratic in recent years as amid tough competition and higher sports spending by rival nations. Australia’s cricket team lost the Ashes competition to England last year has just lost a home series against South Africa while its rugby team has failed to win a World Cup since 1999. Australia’s Olympic team ranked 10th in Rio.
“Sport is an important part of Australian culture and we hate losing to Britain. So we are looking at innovative ways to change the game,” Mr Wylie said.
Mr Wylie told the Australian newspaper that Britain is outspending Australia by two to one on sport and a “moment of truth for funding of Australian sport” had been reached. He said the commission is seeking federal government support to establish an online lottery to generate up to A$50m (US$37m) in extra funding for sports and arts projects.
In an interview with the FT Mr Wylie said the commission would also back the introduction of a sugar tax if the money raised was diverted into sport to help Australia compete with the UK and other nations.
Australian Sports Commission income fell to A$282m in 2015-16, down from A$311m a year earlier, due mainly to budget cuts from government. Further cutbacks are forecast due to an austerity drive by federal officials, who are seeking to reduce the country’s budget deficit, forecast at 2.2 per cent of GDP in 2016-17.
“Our government funding has declined over the last seven years in real terms,” said Mr Wylie. “We are seriously underfunded compared to the UK and others.”
Despite strains on the UK public finances, former chancellor George Osborne announced a 29 per cent increase in funding for UK Sport during the spending review in November 2015. British athletes competing in Rio received £350m over four years, compared to £314m for British athletes who competed at the London games.
However, the call for an Australian lottery has not received unanimous backing.
Bill Sweetenham, an Australian coach who brought success to British swimming when he worked as national performance director from 2000 to 2007, said the Australian Sports Commission was using funding as an excuse for poor performance.
“The commission needs to look into the mirror. This is not a funding issue it’s a question of how you spend the funding, how it is allocated, leadership and governance,” said Mr. Sweetenham.
Mr Wylie said the commission was undertaking a systematic review of everything relevant to high performance sport.
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