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Olympic funding threat. -

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Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates speaks with Kerry O'Brien following the release
of a report recommending Olympic funding be slashed.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: A Government report into sports funding suggesting Australia should lower
its sights on Olympic glory and gold medal tallies has drawn a predictably stormy response from the
nation's Olympic administrators today. AOC President John Coates was visibly angry, as he attacked
the Crawford report commissioned by the Rudd Government to investigate the reforms required to
prepare Australian sport for future challenges. The panel, chaired by prominent Australian
businessman David Crawford, found that the Olympic movement shouldn't get any of the extra funding
called for by the AOC to keep Australia competitive at the next Games in London, and in fact argued
that aiming for top five status was not a sensible target. Mr Coates says the report displays a
bias towards sports like the football codes that attract big crowds through the turnstiles. I spoke
with John Coates in our Sydney studio earlier today.

John Coates, you're clearly offended by the Crawford report; "pissed off", I think was your
expression. Why?

JOHN COATES, PRESIDENT, AUST. OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: Well I just think that it doesn't recognise the
importance of our Olympic sports to our country's reputation globally, the importance of our
Olympic athletes as role models to society here. It considers all of the funding that's going from
government to the Olympic sports as going to the elite end. It doesn't recognise that the national
federations, who are the recipients of that funding are responsible for their particular sports
from the grassroots, all the way through. They look after the volunteers, they train the coaches,
they look after all of the junior competitions. And it's just a simplistic attack on the Olympic
sports.

KERRY O'BRIEN: It would appear that seek to pull the rug from the whole way you measure success at
the Olympics: "The panel does not believe the medal count is an appropriate measure of Australian
performance or that a top five position is a sensible target." What's your response to that?

JOHN COATES: Well we, when the additional funding started to be fed into sport following the
problems we had in Montreal in '76 with just four medals, creation of the AIS, creation of the
Australian Sports Commission, additional funding leading into Sydney, we always set targets and
ambitious targets for the athletes. We thought if they're receiving good funding, the other side of
the ledger is they've gotta meet these KPIs and they've been meeting it. So we got to fourth in
Sydney on the medal tally; we maintained that for Athens. In Beijing we'd slipped to sixth. And the
results that we're looking at in World Championships now show that we're on the slide. Now, the
Crawford panel says it's unrealistic for a country of our size to continue to aspire for top five
and top eight or top 10 might be more realistic. Well, we say, and this was why the AIS, Australian
Institute of Sport was set up to start with, that we should be and government should be giving the
opportunity to young Australians with ability in sport, the opportunity to excel internationally.
And we shouldn't hide from trying to be the best.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, since Beijing, you've pointed out that Australia's sporting performance by
international competitive benchmarks is slipping, and that countries we've been very competitive
with are spending - Olympic countries - are spending more and more and getting better results than
us heading towards the London Olympics. But they're all bigger countries, they're richer countries.
What is Australia really after here? Something of tangible benefit to this country, or just
bragging rights, something we can puff our chest out a bit and live off the glory of athletes who
do actually achieve?

JOHN COATES: Well, when we won the games in Monte Carlo for Sydney, Paul Keating was asked that
very question: what's the importance to Australia of this. And he said this is an opportunity for
Australia and Australians to show we can hack it in the big time. Through the Olympic athletes and
hosting an event, it's an opportunity to gain global recognition in a way that little Australia
doesn't otherwise gain and it's an opportunity for the Australian community through their athletes
to gain pride and self-confidence in their own ability. They're the intangibles that - intangibles
in terms of the Australian community, I think, measurable in terms of global standing.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But how do you measure it? Where is it tangible? What is the evidence you can point
to that says here are the real benefits for Australia at having staged Sydney and having done so
well at Sydney, at having done so well in Athens and so on?

JOHN COATES: Well if there aren't any benefits, why does the Prime Minister and the Minister for
Sport come to Beijing and mix with 70 world leaders at the biggest peacetime event? Why is it that
the Business Council of Australia runs off the back of the Olympic team with business groups going
up there and trying to win contracts in Beijing; now they want to do the same in Vancouver and want
to do the same in London. They're tangibles.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The authors of this report including leading business people who also are or have
been directly involved in leading Australian sports, like Aussie Rules, Rugby League, soccer. When
they say you haven't justified your arguments for an extra $100 million to support Olympic sports,
aren't they speaking with any authority?

JOHN COATES: They're using those sports that you've mentioned as an example of those sports are
able to stand on their own two feet financially. And of course they are because they are sports
that attract great broadcast rights, there are sports where the public purse has presented them
with stadia such as the MCG and SCG to attract crowds, that they - so they get gates. Our Olympic
sports don't get that. And as a result of that, consequentially they also get sponsorship. The only
one of the Olympic sports - if you put rugby as an Olympic sport now, if you put golf, tennis and
football and soccer aside, then the only one that gets any broadcast rights is swimming, and that's
because of the performances of our athletes at Olympic Games.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Are you saying that there is a bias reflected in this report towards those kind of
big picture sports, if you like, the big team sports that are so popular in Australia, the various
football codes, cricket, tennis, whatever?

JOHN COATES: Well, the report criticises the bias in government funding to the Olympic sports, uses
those sports as an example of best practice. To that extent, yes, there is a bias.

KERRY O'BRIEN: When they talk about iconic sports, identifying the iconic sports that Australians
cherish most, what's the effect of that rationale on the broad reach of Olympic sports that
Australia participates in?

JOHN COATES: Well, there's an interesting group. Obviously swimming was there. But there was no
mention of triathlon - Emma Snowsill. There was not mention of weightlifting - Dean Lukin. There
was no mention of diving - Matthew Mincham. No mentioned of canoeing at the last Olympic Games -
Kenny Wallace. No mention of the gold medals won by our sailors, no mention of the gold medals won
by our rowers in Beijing. There's just a total disregard of these other Olympic sports.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The report says there's no evidence that major sporting events necessarily encourage
participation in the wider Australian community. Have you got any evidence to the contrary; for
instance, if an Australian does well in the marathon in London in 2012, would you expect to see
more young Australians attracted to long distance running?

JOHN COATES: It was the case when de Castella - when Rob de Castella was winning, Commonwealth
Games and performing well in the Olympics, we had more people jogging. It was the case when Kieren
Perkins was winning gold medals in his 1,500, we had more people swimming. And you only had to go
to Kingston Heath the other day to see the effect that Tiger Woods has had. I bet you all the golf
clubs are full at the moment and I bet you ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well I did wonder how many of them were actually armchair golfers.

JOHN COATES: Well, it is a sport for all ages, and it's become an Olympic sport now because golf is
very keen to attract the youth.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You've already pointed out that Kevin Rudd made the most of the Beijing Olympics.
What's your message to him today?

JOHN COATES: Well I hope he just sits back and reflects on the importance of Olympic sport,
international sport to the Australian psyche, to our international standing and that he doesn't let
all of the good work that's been done since the establishment of the AIS, the Australian Institute
of Sport, just be thrown out the door.

KERRY O'BRIEN: John Coates, thanks for talking with us.

JOHN COATES: Thanks, Kerry.