THERE WILL BE JUST 22 ATHLETES REPRESENTING SOUTH AUSTRALIA AT THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES, STARTING TOMORROW. SO WHERE HAVE ALL OUR ELITE SPORTSPEOPLE GONE?
Poor facilities and lack of money are choking SA’s sporting prowess and forcing talented kids to leave the state.
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