MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s top sports funding authority has defended its record in the wake of the nation’s worst Olympic haul in 24 years and called for more money to bridge the gap at elite international events.
The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and its funding program ‘Winning Edge’ have been under fire since Rio, where the country’s total of eight golds and 29 medals was well below expectations.
‘Winning Edge’, introduced after the London Games in the wake of a similarly disappointing haul, has long proven contentious in Australia for giving more funding to sports deemed to have better medal prospects at the expense of lower-profile disciplines.
But the more targeted approach fell flat in Rio, where Australia’s traditionally strong swimming, cycling and rowing teams managed only four titles between them.
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates publicly questioned ‘Winning Edge’ two days before the closing ceremony and said the model needed to be reviewed.
But ASC chairman John Wylie said the authority’s board had “committed unanimously” to its key principles at a meeting this week.
“There is no doubt we can learn and improve from the experience of the past four years and from the Rio Olympics, but the core principles of the strategy remain sound, valid and in the long-term interests of the Australian sport sector,” Wylie said in a statement.
“Australia’s Winning Edge is built on evidence-based funding decisions, high aspirations for achievement, sports taking responsibility for their own high performance programs and improved leadership and governance in sports organizations.
“It needs to be understood that these changes strengthen sports but don’t produce results overnight.
“While Australia’s medal results in Rio were less than predicted by independent forecasting services, there were positive signs for the future.”
Australia has looked covetously at Britain’s Olympic performances, their sporting arch-rivals outshining them with top-five finishes on the medals table at the last three Games.
Supported by a national lottery fund, Britain finished second at Rio with a bumper haul of 27 golds and 67 medals.
Australian taxpayers pumped about A$340 million ($256 million) into Olympic sports over the four years leading up to Rio but Wylie said it was clear the country was being ‘out-spent’.
“The ASC is not citing funding as the reason for not meeting aspirations in Rio,” he added.
“Many factors contributed to the results, and these will be analyzed intensively ... in the coming weeks with a view to future improvement.
“In the medium term, however, the Australian high performance sporting system will need new and deeper sources of funding if we are to remain competitive in the highest levels of international sport.
“This could include a new online national sports lottery.”
($1 = 1.3266 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury