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Winning the next race

Australia’s international sporting reputation is formidable. We are respected for what our athletes have achieved and the broad range of sports in which we have succeeded. Watch any major sporting event and invariably there is an Aussie in the mix.

Australia’s international sporting achievements by our men and women over the past 30 years have been impressive: Olympic and Paralympic champions too many to name; the America’s Cup; the Tour de France; Rugby and Cricket World Cups; world champions on bikes, in boats, on skis, jumping things, throwing things, swimming in pools and surfing in oceans; in summer or winter, indoor or outdoor sports; up mountains, around race-tracks and down half-pipes; throwing, kicking, netting and hitting balls of all shapes and sizes. Our many successes are a credit to all involved in them.

But the world is changing. International competition is intensifying and improving all the time. Many other nations have now replicated our innovations, tapped into our expertise and made strategic investments, and as a result have become strong competitors in international sport. This is true of developed and developing nations alike.

In any area of human endeavour, there is one truism — past success is no guarantee of future performance.

Our Olympic performance peaked nearly a decade ago. Since Athens in 2004 our place in the upper echelons of medal-winning nations has drifted downwards (see chart 1). The London Games provided clear signs that even in sports where we have had great success, there are new and re-emerging competitive challenges.

Notwithstanding swimming’s extraordinary result in Beijing in 2008 (20 medals with 6 golds), our overall relative Olympic position has been trending downwards since the Sydney Games.

Key statistics give us a true sense of the challenge:

  • Australia is winning less gold medals
  • Australia is winning less medals
  • We are achieving less top-eight placings
  • Our conversion of top-eight placings into medals is below the average of the top 15 nations at the Games.

The other measure of sustained success — annual world champions — tells a similar story and extends beyond Olympic sports. There is a trend downwards in priority sports, with 2012 likely to be the lowest result in the last 12 years (see chart 2).

This should not diminish the great achievements by athletes over the past decade. Nor should it deflate our potential future champions, in whom we have enormous belief. We have a pool of extraordinary talent that is ready to step up, and world-leading high performance expertise from coaching to nutrition to sports medicine.

The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) believes that Australians want, indeed expect, us to respond to this new environment — to retain our pre-eminent position in world sport and not lower our expectations. To achieve this, the Australian high performance sport sector will need to do things smarter and better, without calling on the Australian Government for additional funding given general economic pressures. Australia's Winning Edge sets out the plan and proposed actions to this end. Like any plan, it has to start with clear goals.

Australia's Olympic Performance 2000-2012

Number of Australian world champions in priority sports 2002–2012

Why international sporting success matters

High performance success is not only good for our athletes and our sense of national pride, it also contributes to other important Government objectives in areas such as participation, economic development, health and education.

While Australia's Winning Edge is focused on high performance sport, the connection this has to grassroots participation is well established.

Participation will continue to be a key focus area for Australian, state and territory governments.

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