Australian Eco Systems in Peril

WEI spent much of yesterday following up on the High Performance Plan, The Winning Edge, announced by the Australian Sports Commission. Towards the end of the day, I wrote this summary.
Since posting the summary I have been thinking about performance ecologies. During the last three years I have explored ecology ideas and their relevance to sport. I am particularly interested in island sanctuaries and Don Merton’s work. I have had a look at Coral Reef research too.
So it should come as little surprise that I started to contemplate the connections between The Winning Edge and Tim Flannery’s recent Quarterly essay, After the Future: Australia’s New Extinction Crisis.
QE31Like Phillip Adams, my breath was taken away by Tim’s opening paragraph (page 6) in The Extinction Problem part of the essay:

In late August 2009 a tiny, solitary bat fluttered about the rainforest … We don’t know precisely what happened to it. Perhaps it landed on a leaf at dawn … and was torn to pieces by invasive fire ants; perhaps it succumbed to a mounting toxic burden … Or maybe it was simply worn out with age and ceaseless activity, and died quietly in its tree hollow. But there is one important thing we do know: it was the very last Christmas Island pipistrelle on earth. With its passing an entire species winked out of existence.

The second paragraph of the section has an eerie resonance with The Winning Edge:

Two decades earlier the island’s population of pipistrelles had been healthy. A few scientists watched the species’ decline with concern … they could see that without action its demise was imminent.

In the Winning the Next Race section (page 2) of The Edge:

Australia‚Äôs international sporting achievements … over the past 30 years have been impressive … But the world is changing. International competition is intensifying and improving all the time. Many other nations have now replicated our innovations, tapped into our expertise and made strategic investments, and as a result have become strong competitors in international sport. This is true of developed and developing nations alike. … Our Olympic performance peaked nearly a decade ago. Since Athens in 2004 our place in the upper echelons of medal-winning nations has drifted downwards. The London Games provided clear signs that even in sports where we have had great success, there are new and re-emerging competitive challenges.

In his conclusion (page 76), Tim observes:

But what we need to remember is that we know how to solve this problem. It is not like many complex and social issues, where key factors lie outside Australia’s control. Furthermore, the costs are not great, and the expertise requires is in place. Nothing is keeping us from success except our failure to be accountable – to ourselves and future generations.

He has a way forward:

Quantify the problem, devise a plan to deal with it based on sound science, and report on the outcomes. And keep politics out of it.

The Game Plan (page 5) for Australian sport in The Edge:

  • Invest for success
  • Plan to perform
  • The right support
  • Good governance and capability
  • Evidence-based decisions

Both ecologies require us to accept their intrinsic value. Both are fragile. Both can flourish if we are prepared to defer and cooperate. There are enormous lessons to learn in sport from the experiences and expertise of ecologists.
Supporting either or both these ecologies requires enormous faith and trust. Imagine the conversations that the Australian Sports Commission Board could have with Tim Flannery as a member!
These conversations might start with the quote from Keith Hancock that Tim uses to introduce his essay (page 1):

When it suits them, men may take control and play fine tricks and hustle Nature. Yet we may believe that Australia, quietly and imperceptibly … is experimenting on the men … She will be satisfied at long last, and when she is satisfied an Australian nation will in truth exist.


  1. […] discussions about the Winning Edge. I have been particularly interested in thinking about the ecology of Australian sport during this time. I found it fascinating to consider the synchronicity of the launch of The Winning […]


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