Obesity threatening Australia's Olympic chances

CANBERRA: Sport in Australia is facing a crisis as childhood obesity threatens to diminish the pool of potential elite athletes, the head of the country’s top sports commission warned yesterday. 

Mark Peters, chief executive of the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), said the “couch potato” mentality of Australia’s youth needed to be addressed or Australia’s sporting prowess on the international stage was in jeopardy. 

“In 10 to 15 years our sporting success is going to be eaten away,” Peters said in a speech at the peak Australian sports training centre, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. 

“We may not be the gold medal winner in childhood obesity, but we have silver or bronze,” agreed federal Sports Minister Rod Kemp. 

Australia has a long and proud history of nurturing junior athletes to become future Olympians, but the ASC says primary school children across the country are becoming increasingly overweight, physically inactive and less healthy.  

According to recent figures, one in five Australian children is overweight and one in 10 are obese. 

The trend has been linked to a decline in physical education and sport in Australian schools, where fewer than 50% of children are involved in after-school physical activity, Kemp said. 

Peters suggested it might take a shock failure of Australian athletes on the international scale to jolt the public into action. 

The last real crisis to strike Australian sport – when no national athlete brought home a gold medal from the Montreal Olympics in 1976 – had a strong impact on opinion. 

“The Australian public was annoyed,” he said. “There was a lot of lobbying and the AIS was created.” 

Established 22 years ago, the AIS now has 250 athletes at its Canberra campus and hundreds more scholarship holders located around the country. 

The centre is considered among the world leaders in sports science and is credited with raising the bar in terms of international success. 

Australia – a nation of only 20 million – subsequently won 58 gold medals at the highly successful Sydney 2000 Olympics. 

But the ASC is predicting a gold-medal tally in the low 40s for the Athens Games next year and the bulk of that haul will come from just two sports – cycling and swimming. – AFP 

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