Racing for big bucks

Australia's Sally Pearson leads in the Women's 100m Hurdles final at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Australia's Sally Pearson leads in the Women's 100m Hurdles final at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Michael Steele / Getty Images

AS LONDON starts the clean-up and Britain marvels at its Olympic feat, our athletes have come back to a welcome that fell short of the one they received four years ago.

The post-mortems already have started in earnest, urged on in part by traditional and web-based media and almost rubber-stamped by a viewing public that has had too few consolations for late nights and bleary eyes.

This sports-loving nation measures success in bragging rights, in luxuriating in the fact that a country of 22 million people can lead the champions' stakes, in being able to recount in detail where you were and what you were doing during that Sally Pearson moment.

Yes, we measure success in gold. Second is first loser after all.

But far and above that we want to see some return on hard-earned tax money - some $730 million of it, in fact, that the Federal Government has parted with over the Past four years to send Australia's team to London.

Australia took 15 world champions into this Games. Of course expectation was high.

The goal was to place in the top five on the medal table. We didn't.

Some former athletes and Australian Olympic officials say the blame lies with the Crawford Report, a review of sports funding which in 2009 recommended the government should plough more money into school and community sports instead of concentrating on Olympic-focused, high-performance programs.

The government responded to that report with more words than action. It pledged more than a billion dollars to boost participation at grassroots level and vowed to ensure the delivery of quality physical education at schools.

But it refused to back down on the sizeable funds allocated to elite athletes, saying the country needed sports heroes to encourage participation.

Somewhere along the way it was distracted by the promise of gold and more funds than were initially allocated found their way to the AOC.

Ironically, now John Coates, chief of the Australian Olympic Committee and the man who in 2010 lambasted the government's financial contribution to the Olympic cause as being too far off the bottom line to guarantee success in London, is pointing a finger at a poorly funded schools and community sports program.

The consequences of letting sport in our schools become a non-event goes beyond a sub-par performance at the Olympics.

The health repercussions are already there for all to see. It used to be sport - actually playing it not just watching it on telly with a bag of chips on your lap - was ingrained in the Australian psyche.

It was a considerable part of the education curriculum and competition between schools was encouraged in the name of pride and achievement.

Prior to the Sydney Games, incidentally, Australia's best Olympics, Physical Education in schools was considered an important subject.

Only 1% of athletes join the elite ranks but if you don't get the grassroots right developing the elite is nigh on impossible.

A decade later, and PE is no longer a self-standing subject, banded together with health education as the national curriculum steers the focus to numeracy and literacy in lieu of a well-rounded school experience.

Topics:  funding london olympics

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