The South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) is a very important organisation in our community. As shadow minister for sport, I would like to put on the record the opposition’s respect for the great work the organisation carries out. SASI conducts programs and services to identify, develop and support athletes with the potential to perform at the highest national and international levels of sport.
I only have admiration for the great work that SASI’s coaching staff carry out for the young SASI athletes. However, I also want to talk about the challenges that SASI currently faces. SASI is facing a difficult period as some of its elite athletes have decided to leave the institute because it has been unable to provide sufficient facilities and support.
Over a long period—and we go back to 1982—SASI has produced young athletes who go on to achieve their goals and get to the top of their game. Losing such talented athletes to other states due to lack of support and funding is just unacceptable. South Australia has many world-class coaches, but how are they to continue training quality athletes in South Australia when these athletes understandably seek better facilities, support and funding that other states are able to provide? We also, regrettably, lose some of these coaches interstate.
One of South Australia’s most successful athletes, champion swimmer Hayden Stoeckel, has recently decided to leave Adelaide and train in Canberra. I quote from an article in The Australian of 16 September:
The last straw for me was my shoulder rehabilitation…I couldn’t get the support I needed from SASI (South Australian Sports Institute), they just don’t have the money for that.
I do not know about other members but I find that incredibly disappointing to read and yet, at the same time, Mr Stoeckel’s position is completely understandable. Stoeckel is extending his career to the 2012 London Olympic Games and needs to train in the very best of facilities. Clearly, South Australia is losing elite athletes due to the condition of our training facilities and a lack of funding and support that is essential to the career of these athletes.
Constituents contact my office to complain about the tragedy of the Stoeckel situation and others like it, and I cannot argue with them, it is just not good enough. State Liberals and people involved in sport in this state, people in the know, such as the chief executive of Sport SA, have pointed out that we are currently facing a facilities crisis. That is why a future state Liberal government will undertake a comprehensive audit of our sporting facilities.
It is clear that the Rann government either is not listening or is dragging the chain. The state Liberals called for the running track at Santos Stadium to be resurfaced for months before this government bowed to pressure and finally did something about it. I can remember athletes complaining about injuries caused due to the surface and stating that they would have to leave this state to train elsewhere if something was not done.
I raise the issue of swimming. Swimming facilities for our elite athletes have not been good enough in this stage for as long as I can remember. The new State Aquatic Centre, which was first announced in 2006, still has an incredibly long way to go. I understand SASI was Australia’s first state sports institute, and that is something to be proud of, but, sir, I ask you: are we still proud of it? When we see our elite athletes packing up and moving interstate to train, I think probably not.
A central location such as in a sporting and cultural precinct like the state Liberals have proposed in City West may well be the best option for SASI and something that could be considered in the near future. Sufficient funding to SASI is crucial for our young South Australian athletes. It is vital that governments provide organisations such as SASI with the funding they need to upgrade their facilities. South Australia should not be behind the pack; we should be on par at least with the rest of Australia.
With appropriate funding and support, this state can still mould some of the most talented young athletes in Australia. By not providing the best support, we will make it exceptionally difficult for our young athletes to successfully compete on the world stage. State-of-the-art facilities, innovative equipment, medical support, and much needed funding behind each athlete are all fundamental ingredients to ensure that our athletes compete against athletes who are already accustomed to such things.
I constantly receive feedback in the community that sport is not receiving the funding that it needs and deserves from the Rann government. I am led to believe that funding for SASI has not increased with CPI for years and years. I really hope that the Rann government starts to get the message.