Budget Cutbacks to Hit Women's Sport

On the eve of the Olympics, women’s sport in Australia has been dealt a huge blow by today’s shock revelation that one of the nation’s premier training centres for elite gymnasts is to close.

The Perth based Women’s Artistic Gymnastics National Centre of Excellence, which has produced nine Olympians, 10 Commonwealth Games representatives and several World Championship medals, will shut its doors in December.

The centre is run by the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) and is funded by the Western Australian Government.  It has been operating for 28 years.

“This is a very cruel and short sighted decision by WAIS that if not reversed will end the Olympic ambitions of many young women in one of Australia’s fastest growing sports. It was a decision made without warning and without consultation,” the President of Gymnastics Australia, Ms Jacqui Briggs-Weatherill said.

“Gymnastics provides the biggest catchment pool of young female athletes of any Olympic sport in Australia. Seventy-five percent of the 180,000 registered members of our sport in Australia are women.

“What makes the closure decision particularly painful is that gymnastics is recognised as a national pacesetter in building and sustaining participant numbers. Since the Sydney Olympics, there has been a 150 percent increase in the number of registered gymnasts. Furthermore, 500,000 people now regularly participate in gymnastics in schools and clubs,” she said.

Ms Briggs-Weatherill said the Perth training centre has been preparing many of Australia’s top identified gymnastic prospects for the 2020 and the 2024 Olympic Games.

There are currently approximately 60 women training at the Perth National Centre of Excellence, including Western Australia’s 2010 World Champion, Lauren Mitchell.

“The decision to close the centre comes at a time when Australia is already falling well behind the money spent by other competing nations on gymnastic high performance programs. For example, the UK spends around four times the amount Australia does on programs for elite gymnasts,” Ms Briggs-Weatherill said.

“Unless the State Government reverses the closure decision by WAIS, many talented gymnasts will be lost to the sport,” she said.

If the decision is not reversed, the only remaining National Centres of Excellence for gymnastics in Australia will be the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics National Centre of Excellence in Melbourne, and the Men’s Artistic Gymnastics National Centre of Excellence based at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

Words by Laura Macintosh