Tough time to ask for big bucks

JOHN Coates concedes there couldn't be a worse time to ask the Federal Government to give elite sport an extra $108 million a year for the next 10 years.

Job losses, belt tightening and a once in a lifetime world economic crisis will form a depressing backdrop when he takes his proposal in person to Sports Minister Kate Ellis this month and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in April.

It's the biggest ask in 15 years, since Olympic sports went to Paul Keating in 1994 seeking an extra $30 million a year for six years, and got something close to that - three years at $20 million and three years at $25 million.

Times were tough back then, but they're even tougher now, and the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president is asking Canberra for much more than double the $73 million a year it currently gives to Olympic and Paralympic sports.

Without it, he says, Australia won't be able to arrest its declining returns.

Since peaking with 58 medals at Sydney in 2000, Australia's tally has been on the slide - to 49 at Athens in 2004 and 46 at Beijing last year.

Without an increase in spending, Coates predicts Australia could slip to around 40 medals at the London Games in 2012, back to the level of Atlanta in 1996.

Coates says Australia is being “significantly” outspent by Britain, Germany, France and Italy - its direct competitors behind Olympic superpowers like China and the US.

“We acknowledge these are difficult economic times,” he said.

“But I can justify all that's being asked for. It's a responsible and reasonable ask.

“If the public would like us to continue to perform at this level, it won't happen unless member sports and athletes receive additional funding, because it's more competitive out there.”

Failure to invest could lead to sustained declining performances “which will be very difficult and more costly to reverse”, according to the AOC's 10-year high performance plan.

Some of the extra funding would be used to enable Australian athletes to train and compete overseas, but about 70 per cent would be spent in Australia.

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