Quadrennial Introspection; the Olympics we had to have

Whilst it might have been nice to see a few more Aussies fulfil their life’s dream, I can’t help think London 2012 was the Olympic version of the ‘recession we had to have’.

It’s about time we hit the reset button on our approach, as we re-evaluate funding priorities, what constitutes success and sport’s role in Australian society.

Early dawes, outpourings of the Emily Seebohm intensity attracted scrutiny; that sadness over silver portrayed a lack of perspective or dignity in defeat.  Self interested coaches, a spoiled Gen Y mindset and a rapacious media were also blamed.  For mine, such disappointment is hardly new and is commensurate with the stakes and her physical and emotional investment, not to mention mum and dad’s sacrifices.  Besides, do we know how the stoic ‘losers’ reacted behind closed doors?  That the media milked Emily’s tears is a fact of life and the reality TV era.  Just as the drama and emotion of Pearson and Meares winning was a commercial bonanza.

Refreshingly, the PM wisely delegated the green tracksuit and pom poms to her sports minister Kate Lundy, whose endless updates were worthy of a twitterthon gold medal, or perhaps a job with Sportsnewsfirst.

Perplexingly, the widespread backlash against Liesel Jones and James Magnussen’s supposed critics scythed through far more trees than the few saplings expended actually questioning their performances.

By the second week, some Aussie competitors veered to the other extreme, downplaying the most important test of their professional lives as a forum ‘to have fun’.  For the poor single mum living on Struggle Street, or elderly parents still caring for an autistic child whose taxes fund their fun, it’s really taking the whole perspective bizzo a bit too far.  Even I’d take tears over ambivalence.  Notwithstanding, our athletes’ demeanour and behaviour, bar the rare exception, was commendable.

As some (and I emphasise ‘some’) bemoan the medal tally standings, there is understandable discontent over the almost $10 million per medal cost to taxpayers.  At 50c a pop (or the equivalent of a six pack of Crownies for the whole swag), the cost per citizen doesn’t sound quite so exorbitant.  But I gotta say, the Australian Olympic Foundation’s $106 million rainy day hoard is as inexplicable as their investment strategist John Hewson’s infamous GST cake.

Then you have AOC President John Coates, who is paid as much as Julia Gillard and just as unpopular right now.   Chronic funding whiner, turn Coates condemned the Crawford report as insulting – only to now support a renewed focus on grassroots participation!  Still, we should be grateful Coates has seen the light, for whatever reason he flicked the switch.  Though compulsory sport in schools is a simplistic response of the national-service-for-the-unemployed ilk.  Finding a way to keep kids active in and out of school when their time is consumed by final year studies is the greater challenge, for the drop off in later teenage years is enormous.

Really, you’d think a nation whose population numbers so few but weighs so much would have concluded some time ago that regularly reaching sports’ Everest requires more Australians to appreciate the view from Base Camp.  Furthermore, worthier wins over obesity would free up even larger budgets to put towards all levels of athletic endeavour.  Perhaps Australia is paying the price for fool’s gold strategically mined from obscure sports.  Seduced by success and fuelled by cultural cringe, we’d rather see more than do more.  I mean, good on our sailors for getting the job done, but how many wannabe Tom Slingsbys will be banging on the door of Brighton Yacht Club this week?

Like the AOC, sports themselves perpetuate the notion that standing on the Olympic podium is the be-all.  After all these years athletics can’t knock down the wall of its own divided backyard, where the governing body and Little Aths run separate junior competitions.  And another source of past glories, tennis, only a couple years ago produced a modified program to belatedly reach into schools.   Former representative athletes sitting on boards compulsively set an elite focused agenda.  Meanwhile, a revolving door of inadequately funded sport development officers are underpaid and undervalued, despite their crucial role in facilitating grassroots programs that link introductory school engagement to community club participation.

Clearly there is room for great improvement.  We know we have the basic infrastructure, will and knowhow to take on the world, but a more balanced funding model is a no brainer.  It is also imperative that national and state sporting organisations are on the same page.  For all the AFL’s deserved criticism, it must be said their Auskick mass participation program leads the way.  Instructively, the AFL compels regular appearances from players, even if sore and exhausted from a game the night before.  Perhaps a few more self absorbed Olympians might think about their legacy given that, unlike footballers, they are subsidised by public money.

Whether senior sports administrators and the federal government are now prepared to forsake immediate gratification for longer term, bigger picture rewards will be… quite interesting.


About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. What would you have the AOC do with the $100m? If the capital was spent it would last at most about 2 Olympiads and then what? Isn’t it wiser to use the income generated and have it forever? In the 4 years leading into Beijing, it provided income of $66m of which $58m went to the Olympic sports and the Olympic team itself. Hard to find that sort of money through sponsors alone.
    The ARU generated a legacy from the World Cup and spent it within a few years. Admittedly they might get another chance to host a World Cup and rebuilding the coffers, but a home Olympics will only happen at most once in 50 years.

  2. Unless you are the Etats – Unis, Mark.

  3. Andrew Starkie says


    read the piece below. It’s on the same path as yours. I support the Crawford Report’s recommendations of spreading the money a bit thinner. John Coates’ recent backflip is interesting. I wonder why he isn’t blaming the govt for our lack of gold when he spent the lead up to London saying if we underperformed it would be Canberra’s fault. Mmmmm.


  4. Maybe we have to start right at the top with the purge.

  5. Thanks Andrew, that was a very interesting & thorough article you linked to. And 100% on the money.

    As Peter Fitzsimons said on the teev last night, if we prioritised participation as a strategy and it still failed to turnaround our inevitable decline, at least we’ll be a healthier country. A far better way moraly to gamble the public’s millions. Alternatively, the British model of a lottery funded Olympic program has merit. At least taxpayers have the choice whether they contribute to the endeavours of the elite few.

  6. Mark Doyle says

    This is an incredibly negative article which only demonstrates that the author has a poor knowledge of Australian society. At least 80-90% of Australian society are affluent, healthy and fit.
    The real issue of this article is that most Australian people have developed a culture of individualism and a philosophy of secular materialism. Affluence in our society has resulted in laziness and whinging.
    I have had a great day which has included a 85 km bikeride from Barwon Heads to Anglesea and return and a late lunch with friends who have just returned from a holiday in Sri Lanka. It is interesting that my friends have appreciated the friendliness and smiling faces of the Sri Lankan people. I have had similar experiences in Nepal and Viet Nam and with Chinese and Indian tourists in Melbourne around St. Kilda road and Federation Square.

  7. Mark – Another incredibly negative posting. Predictable if nothing else. Baffling as to what relevance your bike ride has to the topic ?? Pleased to hear you enjoyed your day anyway.

  8. Jeff Dowsing says

    Mark, I really don’t think your bizarre post warrants a response but fwiw 60% of Australians are overweight or obese. It’s one top 5 tally in the world we have all sewn up. And our wealth and affluence is perhaps a major reason why.

  9. Stephen Cooke says

    Jeff, your “facts” won’t sway me either. You knock off 85km on the bike and then come talk to me.

  10. Jeff Dowsing says

    Alas, I have no Sri Lankan friends either Cookie.

    I retract my article. I have not a leg to stand on, nor a basket to weave.

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