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    EXCLUSIVE: Twenty years after the high point of the Sydney Olympics, swimming great Ian Thorpe warns our top athletes are not being paid enough – jeopardising another ‘golden era’ in Australian sport

    • Ian Thorpe won five gold, three silver and one bronze medal from two Olympics
    • Australia’s total medal tally has dropped at each Olympics since 2004 in Athens
    • Thorpe says government funding for elite sport has been dropping in real terms
    • The 37-year-old believes sports success and the arts ‘help identify us as a nation’ 

    Australia needs to increase funding to elite athletes if it is to ever experience another ‘golden era’ of sport, according to the country’s most successful Olympian.

    Swimming champion Ian Thorpe told Daily Mail Australia that elite sport was not being adequately funded ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics

    ‘Funding needs to increase,’ the five-time Olympic gold medal winner said. ‘We haven’t seen a real increase in elite sport for several years now. 

    ‘If you look at inflation and things like that there’s actually been a decrease.’

    Scroll down for video 

    Australia needs to increase funding to elite athletes if it is ever to experience another golden era of sporting performance, according to the country’s most successful Olympian, Ian Thorpe. ‘If you look at inflation and things like that there’s actually been a decrease,’ he says

    Australia won 16 events at the Sydney Olmpics in 2000 and 17 in Athens in 2004. Gold medal and total tallies have dropped at the three Olympics since. Pictured (L-R) are the 4 x 100m freestyle relay team from Sydney: Ashley Callus, Chris Fydler, Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe

    Australia won 16 events at the Sydney Olmpics in 2000 and 17 in Athens in 2004. Gold medal and total tallies have dropped at the three Olympics since. Pictured (L-R) are the 4 x 100m freestyle relay team from Sydney: Ashley Callus, Chris Fydler, Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe

    Thorpe said the federal government should not ignore sport even while the economy was being pummelled by COVID-19 and the country was in recession. A couple in protective masks is seen in Tokyo in February a month before this year's Olympics was postponed until next year

    Thorpe said the federal government should not ignore sport even while the economy was being pummelled by COVID-19 and the country was in recession. A couple in protective masks is seen in Tokyo in February a month before this year’s Olympics was postponed until next year

    Thorpe said the federal government should not ignore sport even while the economy was being pummelled by COVID-19 and the country was in recession. 

    ‘It’s part of what will be a broader conversation as Australia recovers through what’s going to be a pretty tough recession,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be a tough conversation to have.

    ‘But I also think that we need to support things like sport and the arts because it actually is something that helps identify us as a nation.’

    Thorpe was reflecting on the future of Australian sport as he marked the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Olympics, when the nation finished fourth on the medal table.

    Thorpe won the 400m freestyle and 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m freestyle relays at the 2000 Games and the 200m and 400m freestyle finals at Athens four years later. He is pictured celebrating winning his gold medal in the 400m freestyle at the Sydney Olympics

    Thorpe won the 400m freestyle and 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m freestyle relays at the 2000 Games and the 200m and 400m freestyle finals at Athens four years later. He is pictured celebrating winning his gold medal in the 400m freestyle at the Sydney Olympics 

    ‘When people reflect back on things like this, the Sydney Olympics, and they feel great about it, it shows that there’s an inherent value in performing for the country at the top level,’ he said. 

    Thorpe won the 400m freestyle and 4 x 100m and 4 x 200m freestyle relays at the 2000 Games and the 200m and 400m freestyle finals at Athens four years later. 

    ‘It was a golden time for Australian sport,’ the 37-year-old said of the early years of this century.

    ‘I think when you look across all sports we were performing exceptionally well, whether it was in rugby, in cricket, all of the international sports that we see.

    Where will Australia finish in Tokyo?

    'It was a golden time for Australian sport,' Ian Thorpe said of the early years of this century. He is pictured competing in the 200m freestyle event at the Sydney Olympics

    ‘It was a golden time for Australian sport,’ Ian Thorpe said of the early years of this century. He is pictured competing in the 200m freestyle event at the Sydney Olympics

    Global data company Gracenote Sports, which issued its most recent predictions for the Tokyo medal table in February, had Australia finishing fifth behind athletes from the US, China, Russia and Japan.

    It forecast Australia winning 17 gold, 16 silver and 12 bronze for a tally of 45 medals, and it highest position since 2004. 

    ‘It is possible that Australia and Great Britain will be in a heated battle for a top-five spot given the likely decline in British medal totals,’ the company stated. 

    ‘Australia has been eclipsed by Great Britain at each of the last two Summer Games and have not finished ahead of them since 2004. 

    ‘Australia’s drop in performance at the last two Summer Olympics was mainly due to sub-par results in swimming. 

    ‘If Australia is to challenge for a top-five spot on the medal table, success in swimming competitions must return to the levels achieved from 2000 to 2008.’

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    ‘In the lead up to the Sydney Olympics we had decent investment into sport funding which meant that we could produce the results that we had in Sydney.

    ‘And then that followed on to the Athens Olympics and that was just part of a golden era for Australian sport.’

    Federal funding of elite sport in recent years

    2013/14: $107.33million

    2014/15: $115.09million

    2015/16: $114.52million

    2016/17: $116.12million 

    2017/18: $124.91million

    2018/19: $132.64million

    2019/20: $143.5million

    2020/21: $148.1million 

    Source: Australian Institute of Sport 

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    Australia won 16 events in Sydney and 17 in Athens for total medal tallies of 58 and 50 respectively. Gold medal and total tallies have dropped at the three Olympics since. 

    At Rio de Janeiro in 2016 just eight of Australia’s 29 medals were gold – half the success rate in both tallies at Sydney. 

    The Tokyo Olympics, originally scheduled to run from July 24 to August 9 this year was postponed in March until July 2021 due to COVID-19. 

    Global data company Gracenote Sports, which issued its most recent predictions for the Tokyo medal table in February, had Australia finishing fifth behind athletes from the US, China, Russia and Japan.

    It forecast Australia winning 17 gold, 16 silver and 12 bronze for a tally of 45 medals, it highest position since 2004. 

    A request to the office of the Minister for Sport, Senator Richard Colbeck, for a response to Thorpe’s comments was answered four days later by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS). 

    An AIS spokeswoman said total government investment in sport and athletes was $143.5million for 2019/20 and $148.1million in 2020/21. 

    Those figures included national sporting organisation grants, direct athlete grants, funding for ‘athlete wellbeing and engagement’ and ‘performance pathways’.

    High performance sport funding announced in June would go towards preparing for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

    It would also go towards preparations for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and Paris 2024 Olympics. 

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