The fundamental question in the high performance basket for Sport 2030 is whether its primary focus is international achievement or the provision of a quality workspace for Australia’s best athletes.
Of course the two goals have much in common, but the second option inevitably concedes that no matter how much the nation spends at the top end and how hard our athletes prepare and compete, we simply cannot expect to win every time – or in some sports ever.
Should the Olympic disciplines of handball, greco-roman wrestling and fencing be funded at all from the public purse? We have seen little international success in these and national participation rates are low.
In a team sport like handball it’s much harder to imagine how we might ever get to be point of being competitive. The cost of getting the required number of players up to standard would be enormous.
But in individual sports there’s always a possibility that someone might just rise from the bottom of the high performance pyramid. An open mind would suggest that at this point funding might begin.
It’s a very different question for those sports in which we have traditionally excelled. There’s no better case study than hockey.
Unless the public coffers provide, it is inconceivable that Australia would remain a regularly dominant force in hockey; a couple of national leagues provide a degree of professional life for players, but it’s nothing like basketball or soccer.
The bottom line therefore is that the country must effectively employ the national training squads for men and women. If we don’t, we have no chance of keeping up with nations who do, no matter how naturally talented our boys and girls.
Water polo would be in much the same boat- as are all the para team sports.
For individuals it can be a hybrid system because some athletes will make a decent living and can support themselves. Others will choose to work or study as well because that suits their current or future plans.
And in all cases we have to make sure that we have a steady flow of aspirational talent rising to the top. This means a culture that teaches skills and provides quality training and competition environments as that talent passes through each level.
So what does Sport 2030 envisage as its blueprint for the achievement of sporting excellence?
The one aspect that has drawn the most passionate response is the final steps in the deconstruction of the Australian Institute of Sport.
The likes of marathon hero and former AIS director, Rob de Castella are seething that even the reduced role envisaged under the now-defunct Winning Edge which saw athletes training and living on campus replaced with visits for training camps is coming to an end.
Sport 2030 says that the once-grand AIS is no longer at the cutting edge of sporting excellence.
There’s also a pretty clear message that the government will consider a business case for the redevelopment of the current AIS campus.
Surely the most bizarre quote taken from the Sport 2030 report is this – “the thousands of families and schoolchildren that tour the site every year will be able to see the AIS facility not as the home of high performance sport, but as the home of Australia’s high performance system leadership.”
Kids craning their necks out of buses to see where Sport Australia and the AIS work on their strategic thoughts rather than watching athletes train? Don’t think so.
More positively – there is to be a big emphasis on the promotion and development of a national approach to athlete well-being. It’s nothing new but an increased, serious investment here will make a big difference.
But not sure this fits well with another key goal that expects our sporting champions to be strong positive and engaged role models – meeting that expectation is often what places additional stress on our best.
And one other point worth noting. There’s a call for better use of and access to existing school and community facilities for grassroots sport and up.