Bid to lure AFL youth to Olympics

ON THE verge of announcing a master plan to rectify Australia's sinking performance in international sport, the Australian Sports Commission wants to target overlooked young footballers and direct them towards Olympic pursuits.

Believing the AFL would be "a good community citizen by taking a bigger view than just their own sport", Australian Institute of Sport boss Matt Favier said the horizons of many young men could be broadened.

He said the country's most dominant football league could also benefit from a collaborative talent identification program.

At a three-day conference in Canberra last week where Australia's demise on the world stage was confronted, Favier and ASC chief executive Simon Hollingsworth told national high-performance bosses that things would not improve if systems were not transformed.

One of the keynote speakers was Chelsea Warr, the head of athlete development at UK Sport, who has helped revolutionise Great Britain's high-performance system with the talent identification program Pitch2Podium.

The initiative has seen soccer players who have failed to win professional contracts take up Olympic sports instead.

Favier sees no reason why a similar program couldn't switch the focus of footballers in Australia and also steer more women towards Olympic sports.

From the pool of around 1600 nominees for last week's AFL national draft only 69 new players were selected. A further 26 players are expected to join AFL clubs through the imminent rookie draft.

"Certainly we believe there is an opportunity to redirect at least some of that talent into Olympic sport," Favier said.

"They would come across having had, at the very least, a pretty reasonable physical preparation. And apart from some technical and tactical challenges, we may find some very, very quick transfers into Olympic disciplines.

"Some athletes clearly want a bigger game. They want to play on a world stage versus a suburban football ground. With all due respect to AFL, which is a fantastic game, it doesn't and isn't an international sport.

''I think the AFL could take the view that they're providing, still, an avenue for those athletes to pursue something that may be of particular interest. And it wouldn't be at their cost; in fact it would complement what they do. I'm very interested in looking at that, and we've got some ideas about what that might look like in the future.

''Not just through AFL, I think there are other codes and women's sport … but I'm pretty clear that in the first instance it may be possible for us to partner with the AFL to look at an opportunity for some - but not necessarily all - athletes to look to move across to Olympic sport."

The proposition was news to the AFL's corporate affairs boss, James Tonkin.

"The vast majority of players not picked up … continue playing at state-league level,'' Tonkin said.

''They love the game and most keep pursuing their dream of playing at the top level. Other sports may approach players who are not picked up in the draft because of their athleticism or other attributes, but we would not want to lose them to AFL football."

This story Bid to lure AFL youth to Olympics first appeared on WA Today.