AOC boss backs plan to allow Russians to compete at Paris Olympics

Australia’s Olympic chief has lent support to the prospect of Russian athletes competing next year in Paris as he warned the home team would be “staring failure in the face” at the 2032 Brisbane Games without an urgent funding injection.

Matt Carroll said the Australian Olympic Committee agreed with the international governing body’s decision to explore a pathway for athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus to compete under a neutral flag.

Australian Olympic Committee CEO Matt Carroll: “We, like anybody, abhor the war in Ukraine ... At the same time, sport is about bringing the world together.”

Rhett Wyman

Australia and 30 nations, including hosts France, wrote to the body last month urging an ongoing ban on the two countries’ athletes as long as the invasion of Ukraine persisted.

“The AOC’s position is that of the IOC [International Olympic Committee],” Carroll said at Canberra’s National Press Club.

“We, like anybody, abhor the war in Ukraine … At the same time, sport is about bringing the world together.

“It’s not the athletes who started the war, it’s not the athletes who are causing the grief and the tragedy, so there’s an opportunity to bring the world together, not to drive the world further apart.”

Carroll used a major speech in Canberra to call for a new federal department for sport, for sports funding to be treated as an economic investment, and a national rethink about sport’s societal value.

The committee believes there is a $2 billion shortfall in funding for sport over the next nine years, consisting of half-a-billion dollars for participation and $1.5 billion in pathway programs and high performance.

“Without investment, what governments in Australia want sport to achieve for the community is not going to happen and, in all honesty, and openness, unless this situation is rectified, Australia will be staring failure in the face at the 2026 Commonwealth Games and the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Carroll said.

“Four years ago, I also spoke about the chronic decline in strategic government investment in Australian sport and the opportunity to arrest that decline for the good of the nation.

“I did say at the time that turning around the decline was a long game – but we are now deep into the second half and sadly the score is going in the wrong way.”

The Brisbane Olympics will cost about $7 billion to host. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese flew to Queensland in February to announce the federal government would contribute $3.4 billion of this amount.

Carroll criticised short-term thinking about sports funding.

He cited the women’s national field hockey team, the Hockeyroos, and the men’s indoor volleyball team, the Volleyroos, both of which had funding cut by millions because they were not deemed chances of winning medals. The volleyball team’s ranking consequently dropped and it now had no prospect of qualifying for the next Olympics, Carroll said.

“A team that inspires young girls defunded but millions of dollars were found for change room grants for commercial sporting codes. Not saying change rooms are not important but seriously, priorities?” he said.

“We do not want to be the portfolio of marginal seats and political photo opportunities. We do not enjoy being the portfolio of coloured spreadsheets or whiteboards mapping electorates,” he said in reference to community grants programs run by the former Coalition government, which were criticised for prioritising areas where the Coalition wanted to win votes.

“As an industry sector, we are fiscal contributors to the nation’s well-being through the critical role sport plays in our collective health, addressing the nation’s obesity crisis, chronic diseases, mental health, and personal development. All issues called out almost daily by government [and the] media.”

The AOC is hoping to increase the number of Indigenous Olympians and the medals won by them at the Brisbane Olympics.

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