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AIS funding cuts hurting Australian elite sport, CWG chief says

Cate Campbell of Australia competes in the Women's 50m Freestyle Semifinal on day seven of the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Australia’s Commonwealth Games chief executive Craig Philips has warned that budget cuts by the Australian Institute of Sport, the country’s high performance institute, will hurt athletes’ chances at Birmingham 2022, as well as future Olympic Games.

Olympic and Commonwealth Games sports are facing large budget cuts, some more than 60 per cent.

In 2019, the CGA announced an A13m ($8.7m/€8.1m) budget for preparations for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Philips told The Australian: “Kids who are aspiring to go to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and then on to the Paris Olympics are facing having their dreams interrupted or dashed – by not having adequately funded programs to support them.

“What we are finding in our conversations with the AIS and sports, is one of the concerns we have is that our sports’ funding will be determined on what they are likely to do at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

“We know that for some of them, they are unlikely to win many medals in Paris, but they are likely to be significant contributors in the medal tally at the Commonwealth Games.

“We have expressed our concern about this to the AIS. The conversations are ongoing. The worry we have is we won’t get that No 1 ranking on the medal tally in Birmingham because of the current funding situation.

“Other countries used to look at us and say, ‘How do they do that? How does Australia produce those results?’ But we have lost our edge there.

“And now we risk not even getting to the status quo.”

There are broad concerns in Australia that the country will lose its reputation for sporting achievement due to declining investment in elite sport. The Australian also reported at the weekend that the AIS has suffered from a ‘brain drain’ of talent – some of its top sports scientists have been lured away to better-paying positions in other parts of the world.

Last week, the head of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, criticised the Australian Sports Commission, the AIS’s parent body, for spending “incomprehensible” sums of money on consultants. The Australian reported that the body has spent A$17m on advertising and marketing and A$7.7m on leadership training in recent years.

Philips acknowledged that the AIS is “challenged by the funding envelope” received by the government, but said there needs to be less emphasis on gold medals and more on long-term planning in Australian sport.

“I think they are making more short-term decisions than doing long-term planning because of the funding envelope they’ve got,” he said. “I think those short-term decisions will be detrimental to sport down the track.”

He said the Commonwealth Games was important for Australia: “Our history is littered with athletes who have launched their careers at the Commonwealth Games.

“Over the longer term I know the AIS’s ambition is to put more sports in positions of winning Olympic medals. You’ve got to find a way of supporting aspiring Olympians, through the Commonwealth Games — develop them to become Olympic medallists.”