Cumpston plots a course for an Australian redemption
EVERY nation seems to have one, but what exactly does a performance director do?
In Australia, Toni Cumpston, who was appointed following their (relatively) disastrous Olympic campaign, it’s about righting the ship, advocating to the funding bodies and making sure athletes and teams have the best pathways to success.
It’s all about high performance and how it can best be achieved. She has to beg for the money, create a system and find the people to work within it.
She was appointed just as Hockey Australia were hit by a major storm; Cyclone Debbie, which wreaked havoc in Queensland last week had nothing on the post-Olympic fallout with which Cumpston has had to deal.
Having won at least one medal at every Games since 1980 (when they didn’t compete due to the Moscow boycott), two sides finishing sixth was clearly a major catastrophe. What was especially galling was that the teams had been world champions and runners-up only two years prior.
It led to a major review, a massive exodus of staff and a boardroom coup. Phew. Oh, and then Cam Vale, the chief executive, resigned.
Into all this landed Cumpston, the new performance director, whose appointment was announced prior to much of the carnage and who opened her office door to find the busiest intray in the world game.
She was faced with a major redesign, which is now underway with new coaches, new assistants in both programmes, and a process in the pipeline for the recruitment of a new CEO.
She is a forthright individual who will likely make enemies as well as friends but she’s clearly not going to leave a stone unturned. The Commonwealth Games, on home soil, might just be the catalyst towards redemption. It may actually help too that the global landscape is changing, as one Olympic disappointment might not have been sufficient catalyst for a major rethink. With a new homeand-away series announced by the FIH and the influx of commercial opportunities which are tempting players – the men, anyway – away from national commitments and central contracts, every nation will have to look at how it operates, whether they were successful in Rio or not.
“It was the most disappointing Olympic result for Australia ever, and sometimes an unexpected result can lead to an appetite for change,” she said.
“We’ve had great success but sometimes the things that made you successful in the past won’t make you successful in the future. To me we are a blank canvas.”
The first opportunities to put colour on that canvas come with the World League and then the Com- monwealth Games, where the Kookaburras have swooped to gold every time and the only blot on the Hockeyroos’ formbook came in 2002, when they lost to England in the semifinals and India triumphed.
Cumpston, a former assistant coach with the Hockeyroos, came back to Hockey Australia via New Zealand, where she was the Blacksticks’ performance director, and the Australian Institute of Sport, where she was a consultant working with, among others, water polo and basketball.
Although, when we meet in her office in Perth, she says she has “seven million things” going on in her head, there are three key areas she believes have to be addressed. Firstly, she wants to reconnect with the domestic network of State associations and institutes, secondly she recognises that player associations and professional leagues are gaining power and, thirdly, she wants to figure out what the FIH global league is all about.
So what would she like to have accomplished in her first year? Are there any Trump-style executive orders on the cards?
“If we have happy athletes and staff who are absolutely invested and proud to say they represent Hockey Australia I will be happy,” she says.
Gold on the Gold Coast would make her even happier!
The boss: Toni Cumpston