“We’re not a large sport, if you look at cricket or netball or football, to be able to step in. We would lose out top athletes to other states”
Gymnastics Western Australia Executive Director Ruth Gibbons adequately surmised the bleak future for female gymnasts in the state after the announcement of the closure of the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics National Centre of Excellence by the Western Australian Institute of Sport. Set to close at the end of December, it marks the conclusion of generations of greatness in the sport and outlines a further blow to the state of women’s sport in Australia.
The significance of this sent shockwaves throughout the gymnastics community nation wide, with many voicing their dismay at the decision via social media outlets, commonly met with agreement from Gymnastics Australia. Even a plea from the governing body’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Rendell, to Foreign Minister, and WA MP Julie Bishop, was lodged on Twitter bringing further light to the situation.
The WAIS WAG program nourished the talent of aspiring female gymnasts for 28 years from a grass roots level with a continuation until the elite heights of the sport, spawning athletes including Olivia Vivian and former World Champion Lauren Mitchell. Currently training 60 women it allowed for a foundation to develop athletes for the 2016 Olympics and future prospects for the 2020 and 2024 Games.
Gymnastics does not sit on a mantlepiece shared with AFL, Cricket or NRL, rather it is in the unique pool of sports that Australia take pride in every four years. Gymnastics is a charismatic, eloquent sport that becomes hypnotic viewing throughout the Olympic Games. Australia’s excellence in European-dominated sports continues to improve yet for every step taken forward, it then appears an additional two steps backward are taken.
Whilst Australian gymnastics suffered from not qualifying a team spot in the Women’s Artistic event in Rio, the announcement on the eve of the Games highlights a sport suffering from funding and support in its most decorated state in recent memory. “This is a very cruel and short-sighted decision by WAIS that if not reversed will end the Olympic ambitions of many young women” stated Gymnastics Australia President Jacqui Briggs-Weatherill.
Those Olympic ambitions may not have often transferred into medalling on the largest stage in sport, but they transferred into what Australia represents at core: ambitious, nationalistic and determined.
The WAIS WAG programme is set to close in December of 2016.