IN SEPTEMBER 2008, I was in London during the Olympics and the English press was rampant with joy that Britain had beaten Australia. Not shouting about beating Germany or France or Spain – countries with comparable populations. The front-page gloat was entirely about beating us. For several Olympics in a row, Australian athletes have performed remarkably, beating countries with much larger populations and bigger economies. Australia has earned a well-deserved reputation as a sporting nation.
The reason this happened is that we put money – lots of money – into sport. On a per capita basis, Australia spends more on Olympic athletes than any other country. This has been a deliberate plan. Following what was seen as the disaster of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when Australia barely won a medal, the Commonwealth Government was persuaded to set up the Australian Institute of Sport and fund programs to find, train and support elite athletes. The recent success by British Olympians happened because the government bumped up funding for sport, copied Australian methods, and headhunted some of our trainers. Spending money in the right way produces positive results.
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