Show us the money.
That was the message from 39 of Australia’s greatest sports stars who signed a letter calling on the federal government to intervene in a funding crisis they claim threatens Australia’s sporting future.
Former Wallabies star Phil Kearns wrote the letter, which was co-signed by famous sporting names including Raelene Boyle, Steve Hooker, Susie O’Neill, Lauren Jackson and Cadel Evans.
“When our current generation of athletes and future Olympians and Paralympians are forced to crowd source for the funds to represent Australia at world cup and international competition, you know that we have a funding model that is broken,” the letter claims.
“High performance will inevitably transform into mediocrity. Our diverse tapestry of sporting endeavour will erode. Fewer sports, fewer athletes and fewer results.”
The former Wallaby has asked the Morrison government to match its rhetoric with cash.
“Government is asking more and more but contributing less and less. Over the last eight years the amount of money flowing to elite sport has been reduced by $30 million. At the same time the government has asked more and more from athletes – going out to schools on health initiatives and diplomatic missions in other countries.”
“You can’t take away with one hand and give with the other. It just doesn’t work.”
Let me tell you there is no money in Olympic sport. I had a phone call from someone who told me that their brother had to sell his car to go off to a world championships.”
Kearns said he was inspired to write the letter after his daughter Tilly, a budding water polo player, was asked to rattle the tin to compete.
“She was selected to play in the junior world championships in Serbia recently and we got a letter from Water Polo Australia suggesting we do crowd funding to pay for her,” he said.
“It’s crazy that our junior elite athletes are being asked to do that. It’s not just water polo. Hockey, rowing and athletics are doing it. Most sports have people trying to crowd fund to compete at the highest level.”
While the major professional sports are locking away huge TV deals to balance the books, Kearns said Olympic sports were on life support.
Sport Australia’s ‘Winning Edge’ strategy prioritises sports with winning potential to maximise medal hauls at world championships and Olympic Games. Kearns claims the strategy has faltered.
“If your sport doesn’t have a good Olympic Games or world championships you have your funding reduced. The issue for administrators is how do they fund their sport on an ongoing basis if I don’t know how much money I’ve got next year?”
The demand to prioritise the funding of grassroots sports in communities across Australia ahead of elite programs is growing. Kearns insists it’s the wrong move.
“I participated in sport because I was inspired by athletes I’d seen like Raelene Boyle, Shane Gould and Herb Elliott. Olympic athletes inspire people to get off their chairs and participate in sport. If kids participate in sport the chances of obesity, diabetes and other health problems is less. We need that inspiration to continue to drive us.”
Kearns concedes that the recent public power struggle at the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) involving long-time president John Coates hurt the Olympic movement in Australia.
“The AOC receives no money from the government, but that battle was less than ideal.”
If the funding gap isn’t addressed Kearns fears sport will become a play thing for those who can afford it.
‘”Sport is becoming more expensive. The cost of coaching, travel, technology and accommodation continues to rise. It’s making it harder for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to aspire to compete at the highest level.
“We’re in danger of making it a past time for the middle class, not for everyone.”