Click here to submit your sports results for The Canberra Times
License article

Australian Institute of Sport must 'regain its position as a centre of excellence'

Show comments

With the heads of Australian sports meeting in Sydney on Wednesday to discuss their future, the father of the Australian Institute of Sport, Bob Ellicott, has warned them to return the Canberra facility to its original status as a centre of excellence or the flow of Olympic gold medals will stop.

The presidents and CEOs of all Australian Sports Commission-recognised sports have been invited by it to an "information and networking forum" at  Sydney's  Australian National Maritime Museum to receive an update on the "commission's strategic priorities in the coming year and to seek feedback on the commission's work to date and discuss the challenges and opportunities for Australian sport".

It is certain the ASC's "Winning Edge" strategy, adopted after Australia's disappointing medal haul at the London Olympics, will be discussed.

The "Winning Edge" strategy has made sports, rather than Canberra, responsible for medal success, rendering the Australian Institute of Sport  a "ghost town". 

Alarmed at the under-utilisation of the  AIS and its potential effect on medals won at August's  Rio Summer Olympics and the 2020 Tokyo Games, Ellicott, a minister in the Fraser government, said: "Whatever happens in Rio, it is vital for the future of elite sport in Australia that the AIS regain its position as a centre of excellence. In its heyday, the AIS was the beating heart of Australian elite sport and to go there was to see elite athletes pursuing excellence in an exhilarating environment with first-class facilities, including a laboratory of sports science the equal of any in the world. It did not matter that a number of top athletes, like our swimmers, were located elsewhere with their own close coaches or that some sports had their centres elsewhere, like the cricket academy. They were still part of the AIS program."

Some sports continue to have their headquarters away from Canberra, such as cycling, which is based in Adelaide, and they support the Winning Edge philosophy because, essentially, these sports have received more funding provided they take on the responsibility for winning Olympic medals.


However, Ellicott points out that the AIS, at its zenith, lifted all sports. "During its heyday, most sports achieved higher rankings and some reached heights never imagined, like gymnastics. Gold medals only come from the pursuit of excellence, not the other way round."

Australian Olympic Committee  president John Coates argues that, rather than receive extra federal funding, the ASC must cut what he terms a "bloated bureaucracy".

The ASC has defended its record on staff cuts but its critics point out it still has a total of 560 public servants, with 39 employed in information technology, 20 in finance, 40 in HR and communications and 17 in on-site childcare

 Coates says resources devoted to administration could be transferred to the marginal Olympic sports, meaning more medals can be won across a wider range of sports, such as the 58 medals in 19 sports at the Sydney Olympics.

While ASC chairman John Wylie argues some of his critics want the AIS to return to its role when established by Ellicott, Coates says, "we want the AIS to return to its function in 2000, not 1982".

Ellicott, noting the innovation theme promoted by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, says, "at a time everyone is focused on innovation, the AIS was once innovation par excellence".