Sports bosses renew rift as changes are flagged for sport funding


While stories circulate of a continued rift between Australia’s two most influential sports power brokers it is masking major changes to the government funding of Australian sport being discussed in Canberra.

Key points:

  • Minister Richard Colbeck says there are set to be changes to the act governing the Australian Sports Commission
  • He said he had a “positive relationship” with both AOC president John Coates and ASC chairman John Wylie, despite their feud
  • Senator Colbeck said the Government was hoping to facilitate more “philanthropic funding” into sports through the Australian Sports Foundation

Following what’s referred to as the “sports rorts” affair, the Kemp review into Sport Australia and the AIS, and the Australian Olympic Committee’s (AOC) call for an injection of funds into struggling Olympic sports, it appears Canberra is looking for philanthropy to solve the problem while not ruling out the privatisation of the AIS.

Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck says he’s “interested in” the ongoing debate over sports funding and “it’s good those views are being aired”.

AOC president John Coates has renewed his criticism of changes to the AIS and expenditure choices of Sport Australia — both overseen by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and its chair, John Wylie.

The two have not been on speaking terms since an expletive-laden stand-off three years ago at the Nitro Athletics meet in Melbourne, first reported by the ABC.

While discussing the need for greater certainty about future funding for Olympic sports in this country Coates told The Ticket his differences with Wylie and the organisation he runs were both “philosophical and personal”.

Currently, funding for sport is tied to the targeting of Olympic or world championship medals. The AOC president says his organisation has moved away from that model and is more interested in qualifying as many athletes as possible.


John Coates says he has “philosophical and personal” differences with John Wylie. (

“We have a different philosophy on emphasis of medals,” Coates said.

“We have a different philosophy on how [the money] ought to be spent.”

Personally, Coates believes there can be a resetting of the relationship with the next chair of the ASC, once the appointment is made, sometime after this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games.

“I certainly hope so,” he said. “I can’t have a relationship with him [Wylie] because of how he tried to interfere in the free elections of the AOC, it’s as simple as that,” Coates said.

In 2017, former Hockeyroo Danni Roche challenged Coates in a vote for the AOC presidency. He won 58-35.

Coates believes it was the ASC Chairman that encouraged the challenge to his position.

Wylie has never acknowledged that and has not spoken publicly about the latest criticisms of Sport Australia and the AIS, choosing only to publish an editorial in the Australian.


Australian Sports Commission chairman John Wylie has not spoken publicly about the latest criticism. (ABC News: Mary Gearin)

He called for unity ahead of the Tokyo Games and for funding discussions to resume afterwards.

Medals important but ‘there are other things to consider’

Meanwhile, also speaking to The Ticket, Senator Colbeck said his relationship with both men was good.

“I think I have a positive relationship with both those guys. It’s important that I do,” he said.

“John Coates is obviously leading a really important push for Australia to potentially host the 2032 Games, which Government is engaged with quite closely.

“So, I have I think a very good relationship with him.

“And I’ve obviously got a good working relationship with John Wylie. It’s my responsibility to actually do that because I have to work with both of those guys.”

When asked whether a successful Brisbane bid for the Games of 2032 might look a little odd if several Olympic sports had disappeared through lack of funding, the Minister replied: “Well I’m not as pessimistic as that.

“I think it’s a reasonable discussion that we have as to how our sports more generally are funded.

“How the resources available are distributed is also I think a reasonable question to be debating on a reasonable cycle.


Senator Colbeck says medals are important, but there are other things to consider. (ABC News: Jed Cooper)

“But if you look at what’s happened, there seems to be a very, very, strong focus on medals, and gold medals within the broader sporting discussion.

“I think Australians generally like to see us successful at Games and wining medals, but there are other things to consider.

“And that’s why I’m interested in the opinions that are coming through in the debates at the moment.”

AIS set for changes

The Sports Minister said there would be changes not just to the AIS and the sports funding model but to the act that governs the oversight body, the Australian Sports Commission.

Some of the ideas being discussed are thought to be included in the Kemp review, which like the review into the Sports Rorts affair, has not been made public.

Senator Colbeck confirmed it wouldn’t be.

What’s all this talk about sports grants? The whole saga explained
Claims of sports rorts are all over the news. Get up to speed quickly with the year’s biggest political scandal — who did what, when, and why people are angry.

“I call it the functional efficiency review (FER) … and it comes out of the Sport 2030 plan, which was launched in 2018, which contemplated a review of the Australian Sports Commission Act.

“I wanted to get a baseline for where I might look, where Government might look, as far as the functions that the Sports Commission undertook.

“We’re seeking views right now because if we’re looking at a redevelopment of the (AIS) site, which we are, how do we set it up to make it a place where sport generally wants to come and use it, from not just a national and international level, but how do we make it be a global leader?”

The Minister did not rule out the privatisation of the AIS as an option.

“Oh look, I’m not going to be led into what might or might not be within the FER,” he said.

“We will make our decisions and I’m not trying to set a direction here with you … there’s obviously plenty of speculation about the circumstances of the Sports Commission.”

Injection of cash set to modernise the AIS

The Minister said the Government was looking at how to enhance the role of the Australian Sports Foundation, founded by the government in the 1980s to help individuals, clubs and sports bodies to fundraise.

“‘How do we facilitate additional philanthropic funding coming into sports more generally through the Australian Sports Foundation? — A serious question that we’re looking at and asking ourselves right now,” Senator Colbeck said.

“We’re talking pretty closely with them.”


Senator Colbeck (left) says it’s important to help individual sports fundraise. (ABC News: Brett Worthington)

The AOC is currently looking at an injection of about $60 million and, along with the ASC, believes a $300 million investment would modernise the AIS and make it fit for purpose.

That amount of money has already found its way from the Government into sport — although not through the ASC — showing a willingness for the Government to bypass the current body established to oversee sports funding and development in this country.

“That’s correct, and I don’t think the Government of any persuasion will completely withdraw from its engagement with something that’s really important to the Australian community,” Senator Colbeck said.

“The role that the Sports Commission is, as I said earlier set out in the act, one of the things that I looked at coming into the portfolio … was contemplating a review of the act.

“As I said, I don’t think any government’s going to completely withdraw from a level of engagement with the community on sport, nor do I think it should.”

“The decision then comes back in a policy sense as to what gets devolved to an organisation such as the Australian Sports Commission or Sport Australia, and what is retained by government.”

The Government currently has two pieces of legislation in the Senate which, if passed, make significant changes to the remit of anti-doping body ASADA, giving it greater power and oversight as an enforcement body to be known as Sport Integrity Australia.

The Minister says he’s not yet begun the search for a replacement for the Australian Sports Commission chair.

“We’ve got till later in the year to deal with that, there’s a few things to move past first, not the least is participation in the Olympics and the Paralympics later this year, which I’m sure we’re all looking forward to.”