AOC calling for more as $100m sits in the bank

THE Australian Olympic Committee president, John Coates, has been calling for more taxpayer funding of elite sports at the same time as his organisation sits atop $100 million in funds, financial accounts show.

The money, invested in shares and property funds by the related Australian Olympic Foundation, would be enough to fund at least 700 athletes to attend the nation's top school for elite sportsmen and women, the Australian Institute of Sport, for five years.

Speaking from London, the head of the foundation's investment committee, the former Liberal leader John Hewson, said it was ''absolutely'' worthwhile investing the money rather than spending it.

''I have no doubt that this is the best structure, rather than spending the money as you raise it, because it's very difficult to raise money these days for sports and charities,'' he said.

Besides being president of the AOC, for which he is paid $482,000 a year, Mr Coates is chairman of the foundation.

In November, he said Australia's London Olympics medal tally would be reduced because state sports institutes were not getting enough money.

He had previously dismissed as ''insulting'' a 2009 government report calling for money to be diverted to grassroots sports. And he returned to the theme last week, saying a flood of money for swimming approved in 2010 came too late to salvage Olympic gold at London.

The foundation was set up in 1996 but it began seriously investing after an $88.5 million injection following the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

After paying a $6.3 million cash distribution to the AOC, the fund had $106 million at the end of last year, down from $115 million the previous year.

The government spends about $170 million a year on elite athletes, with most of that focused on Olympic sports.

Almost $20 million a year of that goes to the Australian Institute of Sport to provide support to 1200 athletes, 700 of whom received full or part scholarships.

Dr Hewson is chairman of the committee that oversees the foundation's investment strategy, which is heavily weighted towards shares and property assets that have been badly affected by the downturn in the United States and continuing economic turmoil in Europe.

However, Dr Hewson said: ''We've been able to fund them [the AOC] and increase the capital amount, even with the GFC and the Asian crisis.''

Since the Sydney Games, the foundation has paid cash distributions of $74 million to the AOC.

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