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The new director of the Australian Institute of Sport speaks about his job

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PETER THOMPSON: Australia's greatest marathon runner, Robert de Castella, has begun one of his toughest tests, this time behind a desk. Deeks is the new Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Sport, and his first task is to restore the reputation and credibility of our premier sporting factory.

In recent years, the Institute has been beset by controversies over financial management and steroid abuse. But recently, there has been a major reorganisation with the Institute now operating under the auspices of the Australian Sports Commission.

There have been reports of low morale among both athletes and coaching staff at the Institute, so David Pembroke asked Robert de Castella if he's seen evidence of this in his first days on the job.

ROBERT de CASTELLA: No, probably quite the contrary. I think, you know, maybe a year or so ago there were a few problems. The Institute was getting a bit of a bashing and a little bit of bad press. But I think especially since the Commonwealth Games, we had so many tremendous performances over there in Auckland, that the morale of the coaches and the athletes and everybody in the administration side is very positive.

DAVID PEMBROKE: What are some of those problems that you referred to?

ROBERT de CASTELLA: Well, I think the drugs in sport inquiry really focused a lot of attention on the Institute, and unfortunately some disappointing things came out, and I think they were highlighted and sensationalised a little bit by the media. And I think, you know, that was - while it was a very bad thing for the Institute at the time - I think in the long run it's going to be very good for Australian sport, because we all acknowledge that there is a problem of drug abuse in sport, and certainly in the community. And I think that the positive things that have come out of the inquiry, such as the establishment of the sports drug agency, is going to have a very positive impact on, hopefully, finding a solution to this problem.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Is there a drug problem at the Australian Institute of Sport?

ROBERT de CASTELLA: No, there's not; of course not.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Are you quite sure of that?

ROBERT de CASTELLA: I'm very sure of it. Well, as sure as I can be after being there for a week, but everybody I've spoken to really has very, very strong feelings on the involvement of drugs in sport, and I haven't spoken to one person who really has any opinions to the contrary.

DAVID PEMBROKE: How do you go about repairing the Institute's reputation which, as you admitted, has been sullied by the drugs in sport inquiry?

ROBERT de CASTELLA: Well, my job up there is primarily to produce champions, and, you know, to me a champion is not somebody just who wins; it's somebody who wins in style and somebody that the community can admire and respect, and hopefully try to emulate some of their qualities. And, you know, that's what I'll be focusing on.

DAVID PEMBROKE: What difficulties do you perceive that you'll have now you are no longer an athlete? Well, I should correct - you are still an athlete but you're also the boss.

ROBERT de CASTELLA: Well, initially, I thought the major problem was going to be fitting in my training program around my responsibilities and duties here in Canberra or to the Institute. Now after being there for a week, I'm very pleased to say that last week I had a very good week of training. I was still able to put in in excess of 200 to 220 kilometres of training. I got in all of my sessions. I didn't have any problems. So, I think if I can do that in the first week where there is so much happening for me, I won't have any really serious problems.

DAVID PEMBROKE: So, you moving into this management role doesn't really signal the end of your running career?

ROBERT de CASTELLA: No, it signals a shift in emphasis. Now I'm really just going to be primarily focusing on marathons, and that will mean that I'll just be travelling overseas to compete in major events maybe a couple of times a year, and the rest of the time I'll be pretty much based here in Australia, doing my training and fulfilling this new role for me.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Have you set yourself a specific period of time where if you haven't achieved what you want as Executive Director of the Australian Institute of Sport, that you will leave the job?

ROBERT de CASTELLA: No, I certainly haven't. I haven't given that any consideration at all, David. I feel excited by the prospects and I'm just looking forward to the positive aspects of it. I haven't contemplated failure. I'm very much used to success and I have a very positive outlook, positive frame of mind, and that's the attitude that I'm taking into this position.

DAVID PEMBROKE: Why will you succeed where others have failed?

ROBERT de CASTELLA: Well, I think my background is certainly very different and I don't really believe that the others have failed. I believe that the Institute has been a resounding success. It has achieved tremendous results in its very short period of time, but I think that the different background and experience that I bring to the position will certainly be a big asset to it.

PETER THOMPSON: Robert de Castella officially off and running as the new head of the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.