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Address: ASC Chairman AOC annual general meeting

ASC Chairman John Wylie
ASC Chairman John Wylie.

12 May 2014


Thank you John for the opportunity to address you today. Eighteen months into my tenure as Chair of the ASC, I am confident that the relationship between the ASC and AOC is the best it has been for many years. Our interactions have a unity of purpose. This was evident only two weeks ago when the Campaign Rio forum brought together our nation’s best HP people at the AIS, the AOC and the APC. And as Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove spoke at the forum about the importance of sport to Australia, I sensed that everyone in the room – myself included – felt excited that we are all part of something bigger than any individual organisation – the idea that when all is said and done, our efforts are about the singular concept of excellence by Australians for Australians. 

Today I want to talk about two things: First, I want to outline progress on the ASC’s strategic agenda. Second, I will outline an important change that we intend to make to the way the AIS directly supports Olympic athletes. 

Reflections on Sochi 

Before I do that I’d first like to say a couple of words about the Sochi Winter Olympics. I was fortunate to travel to Sochi for my first Winter Games. I was extremely impressed by what I witnessed from our Australian team. 

While Australia’s overall medal table placing fell short of aspirations, there were many positives. 

We had the largest number of Australians ever – 60 - meeting Olympic qualifying standard to merit inclusion in our team. 

We had a very young team, providing great foundations for the future. 

We had brilliant and gutsy medal winning performances from David Morris, Torah Bright and Lydia Lassila. Lydia and Torah showed why they are such great Australian athletes – and added further evidence as to how our female athletes continue to lead the way. David Morris’ silver must go down as one of the best examples in any event - let alone the harrowing aerials – in applying exquisite judgment, and demonstrating nerves of steel to produce his best on the day, at the moment when it was needed. Superlative is an understatement. 

And we showed the increasing depth of our talent pool – with 15 top 10s, 27 in the top 16, and we had 7 of the top 60 moguls competitors in the world, with 2 finishing in the top 10 – an impressive achievement in a non-alpine country like Australia. 

The Sochi results I believe have reinforced the merits of a targeted investment approach by Australia. The AIS is now working closely with the AOC and OWIA to identify the best way to keep producing results in areas where Australia can produce world champions like aerials, snowboarding and moguls. 

As Sochi fades into sporting history, Rio moves ever closer. This test looms for our athletes as one of their most challenging ever. I never cease to be impressed with the qualities of our young Olympic athletes – their dedication, focus, resilience, leadership skills and general good nature. I have no doubt therefore that they will respond magnificently to the challenges of Rio, and indeed will find a way to flourish in what will be a chaotic and culturally novel environment. 

Update ASC Strategic Agenda 

I’d like to turn now to progress on ASC’s strategic agenda. 

I believe that since we launched Australia’s Winning Edge, the ASC has demonstrated consistent and clear leadership of Australian sport. We have asked all of you to embrace change, and we have practiced what we have preached by changing ourselves. In short: Clear targets; streamlined investment linked to the targets; more responsibility for sport; more accountability of sports; and a changed AIS. 

You are all familiar with the challenging economic environment in Australia, and I don’t wish to speculate on next week’s Federal budget, save to say that the importance of sport to Australians is well understood by the Government and the PM. The PM’s attendance last night at this busy time is indicative of his recognition of the importance of the Olympics to Australia. 

While most of you are aware of the changes to the AIS that have been implemented, you may be less familiar with the extent to which the broader ASC has itself changed. Over the past 4 years, the ASC has not been immune from cumulative efficiency dividends applied by Government to its budget. 

The ASC Board is proud that all efficiency reductions have been found from the ASC’s operational base so that funding for sports and athletes has been preserved, and in some cases increased. To achieve this the ASC has made cumulative operational savings of $20mpa since 2009/10, which will be ongoing into future years. The organisation is now 15% smaller than it was in 2010. The ASC will continue to focus on being as lean and agile as possible, and I commend Simon for his leadership in this regard. 

Aside from the new AIS approach to high performance sport, two central pillars of the ASC’s reform agenda are the improved governance structures for sports and helping sports to generate more non-Government revenue. 

The progress on governance reform over the past 12 months has been very satisfactory. Through the introduction of our new mandatory principles, a new sense of urgency and understanding of the need for sports to modernise has emerged. Four large sports have instituted significant constitutional reform, and they have all done it very quickly: swimming, basketball, rowing and two weeks ago Gerry Ryan achieved big reform in cycling. They have set a good example of what can be achieved, and changed the previously accepted paradigm that governance reform is a laborious five year exercise. 

At the risk of singling out one sport, I would like to acknowledge the work of John Bertrand, his Board and CEO Mark Anderson at Swimming Australia. The cultural transformation in this iconic sport serves as a great example of how turnarounds can occur quickly when accompanied by resolve, good leadership and commitment. A bit over 12 months ago, swimming faced many challenges. To see the rapid turnaround on display at the CW Games Trials last month was impressive. 

Even more impressive than the change in structure was the demonstrable change in team culture – a harder thing to do quickly. I am impressed by how the sport now benchmarks itself against the world. Well done John and team. 

As pleasingly, the reform effort has cascaded down beyond the seven sports and major work is underway across virtually every Olympic sport. So much so that by the end of this year, few sports will remain unchanged. I urge sports to use the ASC to help: we can use our cross-sport experience to your benefit. 

At the ASC we are devoting considerably more time to the second reform pillar of helping to make sports more commercial. 

Last year I spoke about how Australian sport needs to strengthen its social licence to seek Government funding by demonstrating greater capacity for self-help and generating more non-Government revenues than they do today. 

This is even more important now with the tight fiscal environment. 

To that end, the ASC is: 

  • Investing significantly more in the Australian Sports Foundation so it can help Australian sports raise more philanthropic and community funding 
  • Working with some sports on some major philanthropic leadership gifts, and we were delighted to see what Gina Rinehart has done on this front for swimming and volleyball 
  • In the final stages of a business plan review of the opportunity for a common platform for sports outside the professional codes in media and broadcasting to allow sharing of costs and audience aggregation. 

Reform of Direct Athlete Support 

I’d like to spend the rest of my address outlining an important new development by the ASC/AIS that was flagged by Minister for Health and Sport this morning. 

As I’ve just explained, AWE is a system-wide strategic agenda. It seeks to exploit the ASC’s helicopter view of the sports sector to drive top-down reform that will in the long run benefit Australian sport. 

Strategic reform is vital – ultimately it is crucial for sustainable medium and long term success. But as Sun Tzu once said “strategy without tactics is the longest route to victory.” The ASC believes that a top down approach, while vital, cannot by itself result in improvement in our sporting system. What is equally vital is a ‘bottom up’ focus on actions that can assist our athletes in direct, tangible and practical ways. 

This ‘bottom up’ emphasis is then the second stage of the ASC’s reform agenda, to complement our first phase top down approach. There is no better place to start in this second phase than with the athletes themselves. When all is said and done, at its heart AWE is about the possibly clichéd but incredibly real notion of helping our athletes achieve their sporting dreams on the world stage; to represent this great nation and to see that Australian flag flying high. 

We are determined that our strategy has a practical impact for the young men and women who ultimately must walk from the silence of the call room, through the tunnel and onto the track; onto the pool deck; onto the court. Because when they stand at the start line, despite the endeavours of everyone who has helped them get to that point, it’s they who must perform. 

The AIS’s Direct Athlete Support scheme is without doubt the most tangible and direct form of support we provide for athletes. DAS is about creating time and space for an athlete to train, recover and compete. It ensures that all other investment in coaching, facilities, sports science and HP systems is optimised by reducing noise that would otherwise distract athletes. 

Many of you will be familiar with wonderful stories of how athletes of old balanced being an athlete with the other demands of life. In one of his many books, ‘Young Men in a Hurry’ esteemed AOC Historian Harry Gordon noted that a year before the Rome Games Herb Elliott barely raced because he was trying to finish his studies, balance his finances and adapt to married life. There are legendary stories of John Landy working full days in Melbourne city, only to return home in the evening, have dinner, study for a few hours and then sneak out at 11pm to train on the dirt tracks around Central Park in Malvern East. 

It makes us admire these legends even more; but we should not think that in contemporary times we can ignore the fact that the demands of athletes are considerable: to train, recover properly, and to travel even more frequently than in the past. To paraphrase one coach, for an athlete to succeed ‘you can’t flirt with sport; you have to marry it’. And that was a coach in the 1950s! 

The need to boost DAS was identified by Simon and Matt and their team in Winning Edge. We have already increased it by $2 million per annum to bring our investment to $10.5 million a year across 600 athletes. 

Today I am announcing that the AIS will invest from existing resources an additional $1.6 million per annum into supporting Olympic athletes directly; the DAS program will be redesigned, renamed; and most importantly that a new category of athlete support will be established under an Emerging Athlete initiative to ensure young talent is supported on their journey. 

This $1.6 million pa increase in DAS funding, together with last year’s $2m pa increase, represents a 43% increase in DAS funding from the ASC for our athletes in the past 18 months. In the present tough financial circumstances in Canberra, I am incredibly proud of that. I believe the Commission has got its priorities right. 

A critical feature of this re-designed approach is that it takes account of, and aligns with, the AOC’s own investment in athletes via the Medal Incentive Fund. That $3.8m over the quadrennial is a terrific investment. I am very pleased by the AOC President’s announcement today that the AOC will increase its MIF if it succeeds in obtaining the deductible status for the Australian Olympic Foundation. 

I am also pleased to advise that for Olympic Sports, the design of the new AIS athlete support program will create a ‘virtual pool’ of funds that enables the AOC’s support to medallists to form part of the overall ‘offering’ to Olympic athletes. With our combined investments, the best Australian athletes will be getting the right support they need to succeed. 
 
Key features of the DAS will be: 

  • Our best ranked athletes will receive support commensurate with benchmarked nations. For example, a gold medallist can expect to receive around 30% more direct funding from the AIS. 
  • Eligibility will be reduced from top 10 to top 8 and depth of field factors applied to reflect the true cases of podium potential 
  • A new ‘Emerging Athlete’ category will recognise and help young talent giving sports an opportunity to identify ways to retain and develop athletes in the pipeline. This new category will see more than 300 athletes receive up to $8000 per annum. 
  • The total number of athletes supported will grow 37 %. 

Finding resources to allow this increase has not been easy; but we have identified operational savings within the ASC so this increase can be provided without reducing the pool of NSO grants. 

We also want to open the DAS funding pool for the first time to charitable donations so the funding pool will grow even bigger and Australians can support their favourite athletes. 

Of course, any good policy change requires consultation. We recognise that some sports currently supplement DAS to their athletes, and we expect that this new approach will ‘free up’ some resources for sports to invest in different ways into pathway athletes. The AIS will be meeting with sports in the near future to finalise details so that the new program can be applied for the second half payments this year. 

Conclusion 

These increases in our Direct Athlete Support Scheme are significant and tangible steps towards helping Australia succeed in world sport. It reflects our confidence in you and our confidence in the women and men who strive to the Olympic ideal of ‘faster higher stronger’ in the pursuit of excellence for Australia. 

I am excited and energised by the progress being made by the Commission; and by our sense of common purpose with the AOC and the APC. It is an honour for all of us to serve Australian sport and Australian athletes, and to do everything we can to ensure that Australians continue to do us proud on the international sporting stage. 

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. 


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