Footy rejects targeted for Olympic sports
ON THE verge of announcing a master plan to rectify Australia's plummeting performance in international sport, the Australian Sports Commission wants to target rejected young footballers and redirect them to Olympic pursuits.
Believing the AFL, by sharing its talent pool, would be a ''a good community citizen by taking a bigger view than just their own sport'', Australian Institute of Sport boss Matt Favier said the horizons of many young men could be broadened. He said the country's most dominant football league could also benefit by participating in a collaborative talent identification program.
At a three-day conference in Canberra during the week where Australia's steady demise on the world sporting stage was confronted warts and all, Favier and ASC chief executive Simon Hollingsworth told national high-performance chiefs things would not improve if systems were not transformed.
One of the keynote speakers was Chelsea Warr, the head of athlete development at UK Sport, who has helped revolutionise Great Britain's high performance system with the ''Pitch2Podium'' program. The initiative has helped erstwhile aspiring soccer players who have failed to win professional contracts take up Olympic sports instead.
Favier sees no reason a similar program couldn't switch the focus of young footballers in Australia and also steer more women towards Olympic sports. There were about 1600 nominations for Thursday's AFL national draft - though some were merely in the pool due to the AFL's three-year eligibility rule - but only 69 new players were recruited by clubs. A further 26 new players are expected to join clubs through the imminent rookie draft.
''Certainly we believe there is an opportunity to redirect at least some of that talent into Olympic sport,'' Favier told Fairfax Media. ''They would come across having had, at the very least, a pretty reasonable physical preparation. And apart from some technical and tactical challenges, we may find some very, very quick transfers into Olympic disciplines.
''Some athletes … want to play on a world stage versus a suburban football ground. With all due respect to AFL, which is a fantastic game, it doesn't and isn't an international sport to the extent Olympic codes offer.
''We're such a small talent pool here, and … I think it's almost a responsible approach by looking at other avenues to ensure that those players have something else to consider. So for that reason I think the AFL could take the view that they're providing, still, an avenue for those athletes to pursue something that may be of particular interest. And it wouldn't be at their cost, in fact it would complement what they do. I think it would be about being a good community citizen by taking a bigger view than just their own sport.
''I'm very interested in looking at that, and we've got some ideas about what that might look like in the future. Not just through AFL, I think there are other codes and women's sport … but I'm pretty clear that in the first instance it may be possible for us to partner with the AFL.''