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Shooting Australia under fire as Olympic hopefuls forced to fork out thousands to attend competitions – ABC News

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Shooting Australia under fire as Olympic hopefuls forced to fork out thousands to attend competitions
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With just over 12 months until the 2024 Paris Olympics, Australia's elite clay target shooting athletes are in the midst of a funding crisis.
Seven of the nation's best contenders for an Olympic medal have been told by the sport's peak body, Shooting Australia, to raise $6,000 each to attend a major international competition next week in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
It comes as Shooting Australia, which has an annual operating budget in excess of $3 million, plans to send its own fully funded administrator to accompany the seven non-funded shotgun athletes, including dual Commonwealth gold medallist Laetisha Scanlan and junior world champion Kiara Dean, of Echuca in regional Victoria.
Dean's local clay target club has this week started a fundraiser to help the young shooter, but other elite athletes, including past Olympians, will stay home on "financial grounds".
Some athletes are resorting to extreme measures to meet their international competition schedules, just 400 days out from the next Olympics.
The ABC has confirmed several athletes have organised fundraising campaigns, and others have had family members setting up GoFundMe sites.
The husband of one athlete has even taken a second job driving an Uber to help pay her costs.
Australia's number one men's trap shooter and dual Olympian James Willett, from Yarrawonga in regional Victoria, returned from a fully funded trip to Egypt last week where he made the Cairo World Cup final and won a bronze medal.
But his next event – the Almaty World Cup, an important lead-up to the world championships and Olympics — will not be funded by Shooting Australia.
"I need to attend the event to keep my world ranking high, and to compete against the best in the world in that high-level competition and high-pressure environment," Willett said.
He told the ABC that the lead-up periods to his two previous Olympic campaigns in Rio and Tokyo had been "fully funded and well supported" by the sporting body.
But this year is different.
Willett was told he would need to self-fund to attend a large portion of international events due to limited funds and the increased cost of travel.
"That's pretty much all we've been told," he said.
Willett has now set up a "GoFundMe style" fundraising page.
"As an athlete, I should be focusing on events, my performance, and winning medals for Australia," he said.
"It's just so hard. I'm an apprentice builder living with my wife in a rural community."
Willett said his fellow competitors from Europe and the United States were not only "paid to shoot full-time" by their employers, but also had their competition expenses covered.
Australian sport is about to embark on its most critical decade, but unless a $2 billion budget shortfall is met, Australian athletes will struggle to win the medals that will inspire a generation.
Another of Australia's top shooters, Peter, who did not wish to have his real name published, was selected for the Almaty competition and sold his car to try to raise enough money to attend it and future events he has been told he will not be funded for.
"I costed out the event for around $4,000, but I was told Shooting Australia sets the price and although this will hurt my chances of making the Olympics, I can't afford $6,000 at such short notice," he said.
Sam, who also wished to withhold his name from publication, told the ABC he was "at breaking point" over the lack of transparency around funding and Olympic selection.
"At last week's Cairo World Cup, Shooting Australia sent five paid administrators including their shotgun national coach, who isn't even the personal coach of any of the athletes," Sam said.
"Shooting Australia hasn't even released the Olympic selection policy despite being so close to the next Games."
Shooting Australia chief executive Adam Sachs said in a statement to the ABC that the peak body's "resources do not extend far enough to cover all costs for all athletes, and so athletes will always be required to invest in themselves".
"Athletes may not choose or be able to invest sufficiently in themselves to pursue their aspirations of becoming elite athletes," he said.
"Whilst SA's level of funding support might be a factor, it's rarely [if ever] the only or primary factor."
Sachs said Shooting Australia was building a business case with other national sporting organisations for "increased government investment in sport".
"Without this increased support, and particularly if costs continue to rise, Australia's best athletes' and teams' performances on the world stage will become increasingly compromised," he said. 
Willett's personal coach is Australian Olympic gold medallist Russell Mark.
"It's very concerning that despite having more government funding than ever before in the history of the sport, our top clay target shooting athletes are going cap-in-hand to family and the public to help them try to win Olympic medals for our country," Mark said.
"In recent years, Shooting Australia appears to have appointed a large number of administrative staff to the point where staff almost outnumber athletes at competitions.
"I would welcome an independent review of Shooting Australia's funding allocation to ensure that government funds – taxpayer dollars – are being spent predominantly on athletes, not administrators."
Mark highlighted a $50,000 awards dinner and $135,000 in uniform expenses listed in Shooting Australia's 2021/22 annual report, citing they "didn't pass the pub test".
Sachs, however, defended the event.
"Feedback about this celebration [following COVID lockdowns, and in the wake of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games] both from our athletes and the wider shooting community was overwhelmingly positive," he said.
Mark said he had spoken with "too many" athletes who had decided to leave the sport because of "inequitable funding" and "unclear selection policies".
"There are a lot of incredibly talented shooting athletes who have just given up due to the cost, the lack of transparency around team selection and the fact that they can't see a clear pathway to pursuing their Olympic dreams," he said.
Fellow Australian gold-medal winning trap shooter Michael Diamond agrees.
"I think it's despicable on behalf of Shooting Australia," he said.
Diamond said Shooting Australia would be "non-existent without its athletes".
"At this point in time, being so close to the Paris Olympics, asking the athletes to pay their own way is just wrong," he said.
"I've never heard of anything like it."
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.
AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

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