Australia to compensate past abuse victims at national sports institute

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia has set up a fund to compensate athletes who suffered harm or abuse during their time at the nation's peak sports training centre.

The fund, launched by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) on Wednesday, will offer payments of up to A$50,000 ($34,500) to athletes who held scholarships at the Canberra-based Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) between 1981 to 2013.

"Almost 9,000 athletes held AIS scholarships between 1981 and 2013 and while we know many people had a positive experience, unfortunately some athletes were treated inappropriately," ASC chair Josephine Sukkar said in a statement.

"The program has been established to help our former athletes report and raise concerns directly with the ASC about practices at the AIS that were detrimental to their wellbeing."

The AIS stopped offering scholarships after 2013.

The announcement of the fund comes more than a year after the ASC issued a blanket apology to athletes that suffered historical abuse at the AIS.

The AIS is being sued by a number of former gymnasts who have alleged they were mistreated while training there.

Australia's gymnastics federation apologised to athletes last year after the country's human rights watchdog probed complaints of physical and mental abuse.

ASC Chief Executive Kieren Perkins urged athletes to contact the ASC's "Restorative Program" if they suffered harm from their time at the AIS.

The programme also offers counselling and "support services" for affected athletes.

"Abuse of any nature has no place in Australian sport," said Perkins, a former Olympic champion swimmer.

($1 = 1.4499 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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