In an unforgiving world we need to work smarter and better
06 Aug 2014
Take a bow the organisers of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. You did an outstanding job, delivering a Games that was fun, friendly and authentic to the Scottish spirit. Those of us who were there will have the bagpipes medal anthem in our heads probably until the 2018 Games come around at the Gold Coast.
Take a bow also our Australian athletes. You did Australia and yourselves proud. You broke world records, achieved personal bests, competed in the best spirit of sport, and gave a great account of yourselves and of our country.
We won 137 medals in total at Glasgow, with 49 gold. Stand-outs were eight medals in shooting, 24 in cycling (able and para), the continuing return to form of our swimming team, and three medals in boxing including our first ever gold in women’s boxing.
Our female athletes continued to shine — Australian women won more gold than any other nation, and possibly even more importantly, bragging rights over our men - with 26 gold medals to 22 (and one to a mixed team).
Overall medal tallies tend to blur individual stories of courage and achievement. The Hockeyroos’ never-say-die win will live long in the memory. Angie Ballard, who broke her back in a car accident at seven and is now a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, is another great example of the inspirational life stories that our Paralympic athletes continue to provide.
The Australian Sports Commission has a keen interest in the overall outcome of the Games for Australia, as a signpost of how we’re travelling as a sporting nation. That’s our responsibility given that we directly invest over $110 million per year of public money into high performance Australian sports and athletes.
We do this through a program called Australia’s Winning Edge, which set ourselves the goal of number one nation at the Commonwealth Games. We didn’t achieve that, with England winning 174 medals to our 137 and topping us in the gold medal tally as well. To place that in context, in 2006 in Melbourne Australia won 221 medals versus England’s 110 and in 2010 in Delhi we won 177 to their 142.
This confirms the trend we first saw clearly at the London 2012 Olympics — our old enemy has gone past us in many sports in recent years. Some of this may have been home ground advantage, but it would be wishful thinking to say it’s purely that. Many other countries are on the rise as well.
The simple fact is that Australia hasn’t been getting worse at global sporting events; our strongest competitors are getting better — and better. It shows that a top five finish in future Olympic Games, as we also seek to achieve under Winning Edge, is going to be very, very hard to achieve, but like any tough goal, it shouldn’t be abandoned simply because it’s hard to achieve.
The ASC will take a hard look at the outcomes and lessons from Glasgow. Falling short of the goal need not lead to reactive responses or a radical rethinking. We’re a small nation with much less financial resources to invest in sport than our competitors, but we do have some formidable natural advantages. We are a proud sporting nation with a passion for sport and for sporting success. We have many amazing world-class athletes. There were plenty of encouraging signs for Australia in Glasgow. Key sports like swimming and cycling are on the up. Hockey is going from strength to strength, and the Diamonds showed real class to add another title to their illustrious history.
Nevertheless, we’re in an unforgiving global competition and we don’t have the biggest budget, so we need to look at how we can do things better and smarter. If we want to change outcomes, we’ll need to change the way we do many things, especially off the field and away from the training track. Many of our national sporting organisations need to continue to evolve to become truly what their name suggests — genuine national organisations, not federations of state bodies focused first and foremost on doing their own thing at state level. Sports with separate organisations running the junior and senior arms of the sport, like athletics, need to come together to provide a genuinely integrated pathway from grassroots to elite for our talented juniors. And our national and state institutes of sport also need to work much more closely together towards common national goals.
One thing to make clear — while the ASC is unapologetically focused on outcomes for its investment of taxpayer funds, it’s not just about a medal count. Otherwise we wouldn’t invest in team sports as we do. Team sports account for just 3% of Olympic and Paralympic medals but 25% of the ASC’s high performance funding grants to Australian sport.
To our athletes again, congratulations on an inspiring performance in Glasgow. Australia salutes you.
This comment piece from ASC Chair John Wylie appeared in the Australian newspaper.