A LONG-RUNNING feud between two key figures in Australia’s sporting landscape has been put aside in the pursuit of improving funding for Australia’s Olympic athletes.
President of the Australian Olympic Committee, John Coates, and Australian Sports Commission chairman, John Wylie, have agreed to back the implementation of a national lottery which would provide up to $50 million in additional funds for the country’s sporting system.
After a review of Australia’s performance at the 2016 Olympic Games, a dip in government funding in was identified as a key area of importance. Mr Coates said the Australian Olmypic Committee was committed to getting the national lottery off the ground to provide a source of revenue for the industry.
“We are absolutely supportive of the push for an online national lottery — it’s critical,” Coates said.
The support Coates – who is a long-serving president of the Australian Olympic Committee and a senior figure within the international Olympic movement – will help John Wylie’s national lottery dream become a reality.
Most surprisingly for the pair, they have not encountered any pushback from the federal government.
Anti-gambling advocate and South Australian senator Nick Xenophon said he was not opposed to the idea if it was marketed in the right fashion.
Despite being reluctant to fully support the national lottery push, Senator Xenophon said lotteries were the least destructive form of gambling.
“I am more concerned about the impact of poker machines and online sports betting and casino games rather than online lotteries,’’ Mr Xenophon said.
“It is a question of picking my battles and the sports commission going down this path is way down my list of things to worry about.”
The implementation of a national lottery is a “moment of truth” in Australian sport
It has been a long-held belief by Australian Sports Commission Chairman John Wylie that the country’s proud tradition of sporting prowess on the world stage will fade away without adequate funding, but Mr Wylie now insists Australia is at a crisis point.
Wylie believes Australia is at a crossroads in terms of our standing on the international sporting stage.
“This is the moment of truth for funding for Australian sport,” Mr Wylie said.
“We are on a burning deck in terms of our international performance. There is no better evidence of that than what has been happening at the Olympic Games.
“If we are going to remain competitive internationally, if we are going to have a healthy and active society, we need to invest significantly more in the system.”
According to Mr Wylie, consistent government cuts to sporting bodies have impacted their ability to produce world-class talent, which is why a national lottery is more important than ever before.
Mr Wylie maintained that any lottery to be endorsed by the ASC would need to adhere to responsible gambling philosophies. A structured online lottery system similar to the one that operates within New Zealand has been proposed, which stipulates that customers must hold accounts and set a pre-determined loss limit before any lottery purchases can be made.
Most of the lotteries run in Australia now generate revenue for local and state governments through taxes, but Australia has in the past used the system to generate funds for issues deemed to be in the public’s best interests.
The Sydney Opera House was funded on the back of a national lottery system.
In the United Kingdom a similar system to the one Mr Wylie is proposing already exists.
The national lottery in England in 2015 generated $3 billion in revenue. Of that, close to $417m made its way in grants to Sport England, Sports Council of Northern Ireland, Sport Scotland, Sports Council of Wales and UK Sport.
Mr Coates said the idea of a lottery had been previously supported within Australian sport but thwarted on constitutional grounds, but said Australia should look to emulate the success other countries have had after implementing revenue-raising lotteries.
“On the face of it, a national lottery is contrary to the Australian Constitution under which the federal government gets taxes and the states get stamp duties and lotteries,” Mr Coates said.
“But I understand there is an opportunity through an online lottery. I believe John Wylie has legal advice that there’s a way of doing it and I hope it’s successful.’’
Our take: could a national lottery help Australia dominate on the world sporting stage?
If there is one thing Australians pride themselves on, it’s their sporting performance on the world stage.
One glimpse at the medal tallies over the last four Olympic Games suggests that the source for that pride has been in sharp decline.
In 2000 the green and gold won 58 medals to finish a respectable fourth overall. Four years later the nation replicated that feat at Athens and in 2008 in Beijing it finished sixth after amassing 46 medals in total.
Thereafter Australia experienced significant funding cuts across the sporting board, and results suffered as a consequence.
At the London 2012 Olympics we won just 35 medals, including only eight golds – the lowest tally of gold medals in 20 years – and four years later in Rio we won just 29 medals in total, the lowest return since Barcelona in 1992 where we took nearly half the amount of athletes we did over in 2016.
If Australia wants to continue to compete on the Olympic stage as a genuine player, then funding needs to increase – it’s as simple as that.
The federal government has already displayed through budget cuts that they are not prepared to come to the funding party any longer, and we are in genuine danger of slipping into international sporting obscurity if we are unable to put together a plan to boost the bank accounts of our sporting bodies.
The biggest hurdle was getting any plans past anti-gambling senator Nick Xenophon, but if he can all but put aside his hostilities in regards to a national lottery for the greater sporting good, than John Wylie is three quarters of the way there.
England consistently generates hundreds of millions of dollars for their sporting programs through national lotteries.
The British saw a problem in their funding structure after a tenth placed finish on the medal tally at Athens and implemented a system which has seen them finish no lower than fourth and as high as second at every Olympic Games thereafter.
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