"Australia does not have a national sports policy or vision. We have no agreed definition of success and what it is we want to achieve. We lack a national policy framework within which objectives for government funding can be set and evaluated."
- from "The Future of Sport In Australia" (AKA the Crawford Report), Chapter 1.1
It's a confronting thought, but let's face it - the 1976 Montreal Olympics was almost as big a defining event in Australia's history as was Gallipoli in 1915. No one died, no countries changed hands, but boy were we hurt when we failed, for the first time at any summer Olympic Games, to win a single gold medal.
And react we did. A national sports strategy, an Australian Sports Commission, national and state Institutes of Sport, and we went beserk along with Norman May when the awesome foursome won the medley relay at Moscow 1980. Eventually - via the humiliation of winning less golds than New Zealand at Los Angeles 1984 - our nationalised approach to sporting glory paid ever-increasing dividends, helped along by the staging of the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000. And can we remember that combination of national pride, ecstacy and bemusement as Steven Bradbury broke our Winter Olympics duck at Salt Lake 2002 simply by not falling over.
But is this what sporting success is all about in Australia? Is that all that matters, accumulating Olympic gold medals every four years and scoring brownie points on the world sporting arena? Or maybe our priorities should be elsewhere?
Commissioned by Sports Minister Kate Ellis in 2008, an Independent Sports Panel chaired by David Crawford published its 365-page report on "The Future of Sport in Australia" on Tuesday. A long, thorough and no doubt worthy report which will take a lot of digesting, the "Crawford Report" as it has now been dubbed by the media, is already copping a bucketing from the populist talking heads by suggesting that Olympic sports should not take priority for government funding over sports that have a higher participation rate.
"...‘medal count’ is a dubious measure. The Panel strongly believes the public needs to be educated to think differently about what constitutes Olympic success."
- from page 8, Chapter 1.1 of the Crawford Report
There has been an especially hilarious reaction from Australian Olympic Committee chairman John Coates.
There's a lot of reading in the report, which can be found at the Independent Sport Panel's website, and I'll just make a couple of comments based upon my reading thus far:
Recommendations for separating the Australian Sports Commission from the Australian Institute of Sport, and for combining the state institutes of sport with their national counterpart - I agree with these.
Limitations on funding for Olympic sport - debatable, but let's not go ballistic like Coatsie. While ever a sport is on the Olympic agenda, we should do our realistic best to try and field decent competitors. If that means spending money on developing our best archers, then let's do it.
Government funding for sports with high participation rates - it all depends on how highly self-funded they are already. Cricket, AFL and rugby league administrators are said to be happy with the Crawford Report, but they are also the wealthiest sports in the country. Should they get more funding than non-professional grassroots sports such as, say, netball, athletics or even kite-flying and frisbee-throwing? I don't think so.
I do agree totally with the notion that we need, perhaps as a nation, to get a handle on what we consider sporting success really is, and whether perhaps we should look more at how many healthy Australians we are producing than how many gold medals we can win, or indeed how many times we can win the Ashes.
I'll repeat what I said at the top of this piece, that Australia's failure at the 1976 Olympics was almost as defining a moment in our history as our military defeat at Gallipoli in 1915. It shouldn't be, of course, but I believe that subconsciously it is.
There's an old-fashioned adage: It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. I like it.