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We’re being left behind — it’s time for a new captain

by ZwemZa on April 30th, 2017
 Swimming Australia officials Mark Anderson, John Bertrand and Michael Scott are making plans. Source: News Limited

Swimming Australia officials Mark Anderson, John Bertrand and Michael Scott are making plans. Source: News Limited

As president of Swimming Australia, I announced last week that the board of Swimming Australia was unanimous in their support of Danni Roche in her bid to become the new president of the AOC.

Danni Roche is a seasoned sports director, businesswoman and Olympic Gold medallist. From our point of view she offers a new and exciting vision and governance structure which we believe is fundamental to the future wellbeing of the Australian Olympic movement.

John Coates has done a superb job in years gone by for the Australian Olympic movement, in particular being the major initiator of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and as such he established a trust fund which now goes part way in guaranteeing the AOC financial independence. But 27 years in the same job is a long time. Coates is now heavily involved overseas with the International Olympic Committee. This is where he spends the majority of his time.

But closer to home is where we face our challenges. Our Olympic medal scorecard has been deteriorating over three Olympic cycles as other countries have become more focused, more cashed up and more collaborative in their determination to do well on the Olympic stage.

How important is it for Australia to do well at the Olympic Games?

From my experience and anecdotal evidence over decades — very important. Our children need heroes. Kids thrive on inspirational role models. Our Olympians on the world stage provide that — the dream of higher, further, faster.

In reality there is little or no money for an athlete to pursue the Olympic dream. Budgets are tiny compared to professional sports like AFL, NRL or cricket. But to represent your country on the greatest sports stage on earth, the Olympic Games, is an incredible ambition. To win a medal takes it to another world. Children understand that: “If they can do it, maybe I can do it”. What an ambition to pursue.

If we are to become competitive again on the world stage, a much higher level of focus and collaboration among all of those involved in the Olympic movement is required, particularly between our two peak bodies, the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) which supplies the majority of funding to the Olympic sports, and the AOC.

To achieve this, we need a major refresh in leadership: new ideas, more innovation, and much more collaboration.

After 27 years, it appears there is just too much baggage under the current AOC leadership for co-operation at the highest level to take place. Symptomatic of that is what happened just before Christmas when John Wylie, chairman of the ASC, confidentially wrote to Coates seeking a meeting to work on how the two organisations could work more closely together. In response Coates produced an 80-page document outlining why basically there was no future in collaboration. And he made the response public on the AOC website. This is just not right for the future of the Olympic movement. Our major challenges as an Olympic sporting nation? Funding. As we say in the world of the America’s Cup — “no cash, no splash”.

Our government-sourced funding through the ASC has been reduced by 20 per cent in real dollars over the last two Olympic cycles while in contrast our main international competitors resources have increased. The ASC funding represents the vast majority of funding into the Olympic program, both summer and winter.

How can the ASC legitimately go to the government to make the case for more funding when there is a breakdown in co-operation between our two peak sporting bodies? It is just not going to happen.

Currently Olympic sports, large and small, operate in silos. The smaller sports are withering on the vine. The opportunity arises to empower the smaller sporting federations through collaboration and increased financial assistance. This is not just about Swimming Australia, it is broader than that. It is about participation within all Olympic sports, increasing participation of young dream-builders — the next generation of role models who can be an inspiration to a nation. Under new creative leadership the AOC will take this lead. We do not see this happening under the present leadership.

And how do we encourage greater access for the smaller sports to delve into the knowledge base of the larger sports? A good example is what is happening at Swimming Australia. Our mantra is to understand what a world’s best high-performance organisation will look like by Tokyo 2020. We want to get there faster than anyone else, so we’re benchmarking a range of existing high performance organisations including the AFL, Formula 1 (Red Bull) and the SAS military. We are on a journey of innovation and collaboration. The level of international competition is continually improving and we want to be at the forefront by 2020. The AOC must lead within this sphere to assist other Olympic sports. At the moment, little will change under existing leadership. That does not look good for the future.

There has been discussion on the importance of someone like Coates batting for us within the IOC. Firstly we do not believe he would lose his main roles within the IOC if he loses this election. In any case, the US and UK do not have presidents on the IOC board and they’re doing pretty well. The office of the AOC is highly prestigious within the IOC. Under new leadership I have no doubt we would be extremely well represented.

Unfortunately much has been written over the last few weeks exposing apparent cultural break downs within the AOC that are counter to all our Olympic ideals. This has to change. The AOC’s image and brand have taken a significant battering. In all my experiences within five America’s Cup challenges and two Olympic Games over many years, the basic cultural values of trust, respect and integrity are fundamental to all high-performing teams. It is vital those values are re-established.

We have excellent candidates available for vice-president and executive directors. They are highly credentialed with experience in sport and business but most of all they have experienced success.

If we get this right, there is the potential of a new exciting board to be elected. Combined with a highly credentialed CEO in Matt Carroll, a new era is available for the AOC and Australian sport in general.

Go Australia!

John Bertrand | The Australian

From → Columns

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