Olympic great slams Australia’s misuse of funding

Olympic champion and Australian Shooter columnist Russell Mark has launched a scathing attack on the financial structure of the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) just months out from the 2020 Tokyo showpiece. Mark was speaking in the wake of revelations his protégé and SSAA member James Willett, 24, is having to fund his Olympic campaign via substantial monetary investment from his parents.

The Games start in the Japanese capital in July but Mark, who is Willett’s coach, says the only way the Australian shooting hopeful can bolster his build-up is by using $100,000 from his parents who’ve had to sell off their farm outside Mulwala in the Riverina district of New South Wales to build a shooting range for their son to practise on.

Dionne and Arthur Willett sold the farm seven years ago and moved to a smaller property, pumping the cash into their son’s world-class training arena in a paddock. The sentiment is admirable but Mark says too much money which could have been injected by the ASC has been squandered on ‘window dressing’ in administrative circles.

So Willett, who finished fifth in the men’s double trap in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, is virtually reliant on the endowment his parents have bequeathed him. Mark feels this is fundamentally wrong and possible benefits are being frittered away on consultants, backroom staff and other overseers.

The Olympic veteran has never been shy about speaking his mind on issues including selection criteria and overall policies and the case of Willett has Mark baffled once again. “We seem to just want to look after the people at the top,” he said.

“He (Willett) can’t keep driving three hours to the nearest gun range in Canberra or Lilydale, so what do they do? They go into a whole lot of debt and build the field of dreams in their backyard. What’s enough funding for someone like James Willett? Where do you draw the line? Should the taxpayer be burdened with building an Olympic facility for James Willett? Well, no.”

Mark claims monetary wastage has spiralled since he was a competitor at elite Olympic level. “I’ll tell you this: If you look at Shooting Australia’s website, they’ve got 18 people working for them. When Michael Diamond and I won gold in 1996 they had just two members,” he said. “Back in 1996 Shooting Australia had a CEO and a high-performance manager – two staff members – and that CEO was part-time. Today there are far too many administrators.”

In response, the ASC issued a statement saying: “Over the past four years we have proudly invested more than $500 million in preparing our athletes and teams for the upcoming 2020 Games in Tokyo. We are conscious our funding is public money and endeavour to be prudent with it.”

For his part, Willett is grateful for his parents’ backing and will push on with his Olympic dream ‑ but knows it comes at a price. “Just for training, that’s where shooting is one of the harder sports with ammo and targets costs,” he said. “Shooters alone can spend $40,000 on travel trying to make teams.”

And if Russell Mark is correct in his summation, surely the time is now for Australia’s leading sports authorities to have a fresh look at prioritising where their outlay of dollars should lie?

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