Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Gold for Australia: a lesson in successful public policy?

By Jane O'Dwyer - posted Tuesday, 15 August 2000

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) is confidently predicting a record medal haul for Australia at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Punters watching from the sidelines or their lounge rooms can cheer as Australia claims an expected 60 medals, 20 of which will be gold. Australia could rate third in the medal tally. On a per-capita basis that will make us number one and confirm Australia, at least in our own view, as the greatest sporting nation in the world.

Such sporting glory has not happened by chance. Successive federal governments have maintained an extraordinary commitment to funding elite sport. Elite sport policy provides an interesting example of what happens in public policy when there is long-term political commitment matched by appropriate funding.

Research by Kieran Hogan and Kevin Norton of the University of South Australia published in The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (Vol 3, Iss 2, June 2000) found that Australia has spent $1211 million on elite sport between 1976/77 and 1996/97.


The catalyst for federal commitment to winning gold medals was the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Australia failed to come home bathed in athletic glory. In fact, we didn’t bring home a single gold medal. Given that our national identity is so heavily tied up in sporting glory the failure to win gold was a disaster. Hogan and Norton point out that the public outcry following Montreal created a political environment that enabled the federal government to spend big on elite sport.

Gold medal winners aren’t born – they are made. A talented athlete needs a lot of support to make it to the top. Australia, unlike the sporting super power of the United States, provides that support to its athletes through direct government funding.

Following the Montreal disaster, the federal government established the Australian Institute of Sport – a state-of-the-art sports institute that provides Olympians and potential Olympians with the very best infrastructure, coaching, sports medicine, nutrition, and sports science. State governments followed suit, and most states now also have their own Institute of Sport.

In order to ensure that potential gold medal winners are not distracted by full-time employment, Australia has an elite athlete program that provides some income to athletes plus, if they reside at the AIS, accommodation and meals. This ensures that a full commitment to training can be made.

Access to money has not really been a problem for elite sport since Montreal. Australia’s potential medal winners have access to all the support, coaching and science needed to turn them from potential winners to actual winners. As a result not only do our athletes flourish, but Australia has become a world leader in scientific research relating to sporting performance.

Hogan and Norton translate Commonwealth expenditure on elite sport to around $50 million per gold medal. That is a heck of an investment – and given our expected medal haul at Sydney, it’s a heck of a success too. Hogan and Norton found a significant linear relationship between the money spent, and the number of medals won. In other words, this is public policy that works.


Research shows that investment of money and leadership in elite sport pays off. Gold medals capture the imagination of the nation and make us all proud to be Australian. Backing gold medallists is a political winner. But, to be quite honest, sporting glory doesn’t actually improve the wellbeing of the general population, or return any significant savings down the track to the Commonwealth.

So what would happen if the same level of the commitment and relative funding were applied to other elements of public policy? There are certainly other areas of public policy that would benefit from long-term bipartisan commitment and a decent amount of money – and maybe even deliver us more return for the investment.

The concurrent example that applies to this case is the level of physical activity among the general population. Funding to elite sport has not only been justified by winning gold medals. Successive Governments have argued that if Australian sporting heroes are bringing home gold, then the rest of us will be motivated to get off our backsides and get active. This ‘trickle-down’ effect has always been the secondary target of elite sports funding.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Jane O'Dwyer is general manager of Sports Medicine Australia.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Jane O'Dwyer
Related Links
Sports Medicine Australia
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy