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AIS treading water

Australian Institute of Sport director Matt Favier remains confident the training institution will play a crucial role in elite sport, despite losing the head of its swimming program.

News of Shannon Rollason's sudden departure on Thursday and the uncertainty about whether a replacement will be appointed places further scrutiny on the AIS as it heads into its biggest overhaul in its 31-year history.

Individual sports will be given more responsibility for their performances at the end of this year, and will be accountable for their finances, governance and programs. The AIS won't be offering scholarships.

It is part of the the Australian Sports Commission's 10-year strategic plan, Australia's Winning Edge, which has set the ambitious target of a top-five finish at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Favier is aware the current holding pattern at the AIS increases the risk of losing quality coaches overseas, but says the end of the four-year Olympic cycle is another pivotal factor that has to be taken into account.

''It's probably a slighter higher risk now in some ways,'' Favier said.


''We're at the end of a cycle and we're going through some significant strategic changes, not just in the AIS, but in the high-performance sector. Equally, there are opportunities to refresh and find some emerging coaching talent to inject into our programs.''

Rollason enjoyed plenty of success during his eight-year stint in Canberra, before deciding to accept a position as the head coach of Denmark's national training centre. He guided Jodie Henry to three gold medals at the 2004 Games and oversaw Australia's only victorious swimmers at last year's London Olympics - the women's 4x100 metres relay team.

Who his replacement is, and whether one is appointed at all, remains to be seen.

''To a large extent, it will be a call for Swimming Australia,'' Favier said. ''If they believe we have adequate coaching capacity … then that's a decision for Swimming Australia to make. There's no clear decisions at this stage.''

Swimming Australia's interim chief executive Jeremy Turner said he would consult with the AIS in the next couple of weeks before making a decision.

Turner said it was imperative coaches had clarification about their possible roles to ensure a smooth handover of responsibility at the end of the year.

''We're quite happy to take over the program as we run high-performance programs all over Australia,'' he said. ''Coaches want some certainty about their roles going forward as soon as possible, so it's certainly a priority … for us to get moving on that.''

The review into Australian swimming is expected to be handed down later this month.

Other sports are in the process of weighing up whether they continue their programs in Canberra.

The AIS offers about 440 scholarships annually to athletes and employs more than 220 staff, most based in the ACT.

The seven gold medals Australia won in London last year was its worst return for an Olympic Games since 1992. In response, the Federal Government has kept a lid on its $170 million in annual funding, instead demanding sports spend their funds more efficiently.

Favier was hopeful Canberra would continue to play a big role in the fostering of elite sport.

''The indications we have had from sports continue to reinforce the institute, and the campus in Canberra in particular, will play a significant role in their programs,'' he said. ''In many cases, there'll be no overall changes in [the] way programs are delivered. But that will be dependent on the decisions made in the next couple [of] months with the Winning Edge process. ''