Impact on Equestrian Sport of Aussie Report on Future of Sport Unknown

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SYDNEY, Nov. 19–A year-long study by the Australian Government’s Independent Sport Panel on “The Future of Sport in Australia” has called for sweeping changes but the impact on elite equestrian activities is not yet known.

The 347-page “Crawford Report” named for the panel’s chairman, David Crawford, is critical to the entire sports structure in Australia as many so-called elite and Olympic sports are heavily subsidized by all levels of government.

The report made no reference to equestrian sports but emphasized requirements of popularity, participation and a growing problem of obesity. A study conducted for the panel listed the top 20 sports activities. Equestrian sports was not one of them.

“What we do know is that the sustained level of funding required over four years to win Olympic and Commonwealth games medals is very high,” the report said.

“Australia’s medal ranking in Beijing (in 2008) was sixth—a very creditable result and our third best performance in 30 years. This resulted in 14 gold medals and 46 medals in total and whichever way the math is done, the result is very expensive. The ASC’s (Australian Sports Commission) funding to Olympic sports for their elite programs runs at over $60 million (US$55.5 million/€37.2 million) per year and this does not include state and territory funding or Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) contributions. Over four year cycles, it is easy to derive figures in the order of A$15 million (US$13.86 million/€9.3 million) per gold medal or A$4 million (US$3.7 million/€2.48 million) per medal. Higher figures are routinely raised in the national media.”

Equestrian Australia that governs high performance Olympic horse sports withheld detailed comment for the moment but pointed to the success of Australia’s Three-Day Event team that won gold at three consecutive Olympics.

Paul Cargill, president of Equestrian Australia, said: “Equestrian Australia is considering the Crawford Report and will comment further after consultation with relevant stakeholders including the Australian Sports Commission, the Australian Olympic Committee and the Australian Paralympic Committee.

“This is a grass roots sport that has wide participation in the bush and the cities. We have a successful schools program of competition and training.

“Our men and women have consistently won medals for Australia, including gold medals in three consecutive Olympics culminating in Sydney 2000 and silver in Beijing. They came up through our junior ranks and that is why we have been so successful. The opportunities our sport offers people of all age and skill levels is something of which we are justly proud.”

The Crawford Report named swimming, tennis, cricket, cycling, the football codes, netball, golf, hockey, basketball, surfing and surf lifesaving as among the most popular sports in Australia, “a part of the national psyche.”

“Many are team sports and are the sports we are introduced to as part of our earliest education and community involvement,” it said.

“If more money is to be injected into the system then we must give serious consideration to where that money is spent. If we are truly interested in a preventative health agenda through sport, then much of it may be better spent on lifetime participants than almost all on a small group of elite athletes who will perform at that level for just a few years.”

While Australia has been very successful at the last four Olympics, the report said, there has also been a “blowout” of adult and child obesity and little change in participation numbers in sport. According to survey quoted in the report only 50 per cent of Australians participate “regularly” in sport and physical activity. Nor, it said, does hosting major sporting events such as the Olympic or Commonwealth Games guarantee sustained increases in participation.

“Apart from the obvious implications for community health,” it said, “a small participation base poses a major threat to our international performance. Australia converts its small talent pool into Olympic medals at the highest rate in the world among leading nations; around six times better than the United States of America and 27 times better than China.

“Australia’s relatively small population and economy mean it will be difficult to greatly improve on this. Australia will never surpass China, Russia or the USA in medal tallies in the longer term. The best to aspire to is fourth.

“Other nations are taking a more serious view of Olympic performance and funding their ambitions accordingly, Countries such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, Spain, India, South Korea and others all have larger populations and are putting greater resources into elite sport. Smaller countries are also taking more medals. The application of large amounts of additional funding may keep Australia in or near the top five for the 2012 Games, but in the longer term this performance is unlikely to be maintained.

“We can only maintain our place by increasing the number of people playing sport, by increasing the talent pool from which to choose talented athletes to mold into champions.”

The report said: “We should aspire to and be proud of, say, ‘Top Eight’ results for some chosen sports at the Olympics and have higher aspirations in others. Separate targets would be developed for Paralympic, Commonwealth Games and World Championship events.
We should aspire for Australia to at least maintain current international rankings in those sports significant to Australians. Where a sport has no elite international competition, maintaining a viable and exciting national elite competition should be the goal.”

It went on, “The national sport policy framework should include the following:
a) Measurable national objectives and priorities for public funding including success for high performance and participation, with domestic and/or international significance and capacity to contribute to the Australian Government’s objectives for social inclusion and preventative health.
b) Financial and non-financial strategies to achieve those objectives including strategies that provide for greater participation.
c) The roles and responsibilities of various levels of government and their agencies in delivering those strategies; including the sport and recreation, health, education, Indigenous and youth portfolios.”

The panel said it “believes that the ASC has focused overwhelmingly on elite Olympic sport to the detriment of other sports as well as participation and community sports. It is time this changed. Even, in its own submission, the ASC suggested ‘community sport was on the brink of collapse’ and called for a national plan to rectify the problem.

“The areas of elite and community sport are strongly related and the link needs to be reflected at the policy and strategic level. There is an obvious link between the size of the participation base and the flow of talented athletes to the elite end. Elite sports are now recognising that building and ‘owning’ their grassroots participation structures is an avenue to securing new revenue streams and elite success. The Panel believes it is important that policy and funding decisions are made in ways that recognise the links between elite and participation sport. The ASC’s role is defined as covering both elite and participation sport and this linkage needs to be strengthened.”

The report addressed the issue of volunteer participation in sports, an area of intense interest in the equestrian world.

“The Australian Government should develop and fund a national volunteer program for sporting and physical activity organisations that aims to attract and retain volunteers to sport through education, accreditation and recognition and in particular takes account of the potential offered by the growing number of older Australians to become volunteers,” it said.

“The Australian Government should establish and fund a national scheme that encourages past high-performance scholarship holders (Australian Institute of Sport and state and territory institutes and academies of sport) to volunteer within community sport organisations as coaches, managers, administrators and mentors.

“The Australian Government, in consultation with the state and territory governments, should develop a strategic national facilities initiative for the funding and development of Australia’s community sport and recreation facilities over the next decade.

“The Australian Government should establish a national sport facilities fund with an initial allocation of A$250 million (US$231 million/€155 million) each year for four years, to begin the implementation of the strategic national facilities initiative in partnership with state, territory and local government and the private sector, where appropriate.

“In any infrastructure programs, preference should be given to projects that have the potential to engage wide sections of the community, such as multi-sport facilities in proximity to other community infrastructure, to help with sustainability and to increase social capital.”

However, while Australia has been very successful at the last four Olympics, there has also been a ‘blowout’ of adult and child obesity and little change in participation numbers in sport. According to survey data33 only 50 per cent of Australians participate ‘regularly’ in sport and physical activity. Nor does hosting major sporting events such as the Olympic or Commonwealth Games guarantee sustained increases in participation.
Apart from the obvious implications for community health, a small participation base poses a major threat to our international performance. Australia converts its small talent pool into Olympic medals at the highest rate in the world among leading nations; around six times better than the United States of America (USA) and 27 times better than China
Australia’s relatively small population and economy mean it will be difficult to greatly improve on this. Australia will never surpass China, Russia or the USA in medal tallies in the longer term. The best to aspire to is fourth. Other nations are taking a more serious view of Olympic performance and funding their ambitions accordingly, Countries such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom (UK), Italy, Japan, Spain, India, South Korea and others all have larger populations and are putting greater resources into elite sport. Smaller countries are also taking more medals. The application of large amounts of additional funding may keep Australia in or near the top five for the 2012 Games, but in the longer term this performance is unlikely to be maintained.
We can only maintain our place by increasing the number of people playing sport, by increasing the talent pool from which to choose talented athletes to mould into champions.