Almost 40 past and present athletes, including a number of Olympians, have signed an open letter by former Wallabies captain and dual World Cup winner Phil Kearns calling on the government to provide more funding for elite athletes.
Although Kearns was a rugby player he says that the football codes are generally ok, and it is the Olympic and Paralympic sports that are desperate for money. His daughter is a top level water polo player and hopes to compete at the Olympics, and yet she and the rest of the national water polo team had to crowd fund just to be able to go to the world championships.
Other athletes have similar stories to tell, especially those just below the top level (and who usually represent the future of their sport in Australia). Swimming, cycling and track stars all signed the letter, headlined by our most successful Olympian, Ian Thorpe, and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans. Current stars including swimmer Cate Campbell and cyclist Anna Meares also signed.
In the letter Kearns pointed out that while $130 million was allocated to direct sports grants in the federal budget this isn’t enough, and only makes up 0.027% of the $488 billion budget. It is important to note that community groups including sports clubs can receive funding in other ways as well, with the new National Sport Plan allowing community sporting groups to apply for up to $500,000 to encourage participation.
The National Sport Plan was very light on details beyond this vague commitment; however it also included a focus on ensuring all school aged children are taught to swim. At a time when obesity rates in Australia are rising it is important to get kids interested in sports, so the letter from a number of household names is concerning in that it highlights a failure to adequately fund this.
The letter from some of Australia’s foremost athletes – past and present – is hoping to address this problem.