WRONG TRACK

THERE WILL BE JUST 22 ATH­LETES REP­RE­SENT­ING SOUTH AUS­TRALIA AT THE COM­MON­WEALTH GAMES, START­ING TO­MOR­ROW. SO WHERE HAVE ALL OUR ELITE SPORTS­PEO­PLE GONE?

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - CONTENTS - WOR DS M I C H A E L MCGU IRE P I C T URE GREGG P ORT EOUS

Poor fa­cil­i­ties and lack of money are chok­ing SA’s sport­ing prow­ess and forc­ing tal­ented kids to leave the state.

SARAH

Ryan’s swim­ming ca­reer was long and suc­cess­ful. It took in three Olympic Games, three Com­mon­wealth Games and a va­ri­ety of World and Pan Pa­cific cham­pi­onships. There were Olympic and Com­mon­wealth gold medals. It was pretty good go­ing for the girl from Peter­head, in Ade­laide’s western sub­urbs.

But Ryan knows the best de­ci­sion she ever made was to leave South Aus­tralia. “I know for sure if I stayed in Ade­laide, maybe I would have made a team or two, but I don’t think I would have had the longevity of 11 years in the Aus­tralian team,’’ she says from her Syd­ney home.

Ryan left Ade­laide in 1993 at 15 to take up a schol­ar­ship at the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of Sport in Can­berra. The rea­son was straight­for­ward enough – it would re­lieve a fi­nan­cial bur­den from her par­ents. Rais­ing an elite ath­lete is not cheap. There is the train­ing, travel, equip­ment, coach­ing, just to start. “I didn’t want to go but it forced me to grow up very quickly. Look­ing back it was the best thing for my sport and en­abled me to stay in the sport a long time,’’ she says.

Ryan’s story is not un­usual. There have been plenty of ath­letes in nu­mer­ous sports leav­ing South Aus­tralia for decades. They are pur­su­ing bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties, finer fa­cil­i­ties and in­creased com­pe­ti­tion. But some­thing else is also hap­pen­ing now. South Aus­tralian sport has rarely been at a lower ebb. It’s not just that our ath­letes are leav­ing the state, it’s that we seem not to be pro­duc­ing as many as we did.

There are only 22 South Aus­tralian ath­letes out of the 376 se­lected for New Delhi’s Com­mon­wealth Games due to start to­mor­row. There were 27 four years ago in Mel­bourne, 29 at the 2002 Manch­ester Games and 35 at Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

SA has zero rep­re­sen­ta­tion in a num­ber of sports in­clud­ing boxing, rugby, squash, div­ing, ten­nis, weightlift­ing, pow­er­lift­ing, wrestling, hockey and lawn bowls. Rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the blue riband fields of ath­let­ics and swim­ming is min­i­mal. Only in cy­cling and net­ball are we re­spectable.

At the Bei­jing Olympics in 2008 SA was the only state not to boast a gold medal­list. In Athens we brought home four gold medals, in Syd­ney in 2000 there were six. The num­ber of ath­letes head­ing for Olympic Games has also been fall­ing away. At Syd­ney we had 56 ath­letes mak­ing up 8.86 per cent of the team. By Bei­jing it was down to 30 and 6.90 per cent

But it’s broader than just fail­ing to per­form at these multi-sport events. Our sport­ing psy­che was fur­ther dam­aged this year as Ade­laide and Port Ade­laide missed the fi­nals – the first time both failed to qual­ify since

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