Australia should give up chasing medals at the Olympics and instead inject taxpayer funds into popular sports such as lawn bowls and netball, a Government committee has recommended.

And the highly regarded WA Institute of Sport should be abolished and rolled into a new national body that would manage the careers of athletes across the country.

But the committee has dismissed the idea of introducing HECS-style debts for athletes whose training is subsidised by the Government, warning most professional athletes would not earn enough money to repay their debts.

Federal Sports Minister Kate Ellis yesterday released a promised review of Australian sports funding, signalling she believed taxpayer funds could be better directed to not only fund sports that more people enjoy, but also to help tackle childhood obesity.

The committee, chaired by businessman David Crawford, said the Government should reassess funding priorities so that more money was given to sports that the majority of Australians play, rather than to athletes chasing Olympic gold.

"The bias towards Olympic sports leads to outcomes that make little strategic sense for Australia. For example, more government funds are provided for archery than cricket, which has more than 100 times the number of participants," the report said.

According to the report, water polo received as much government funding as golf, tennis and lawn bowls combined, yet had only a small fraction of the number of participants.

Mr Crawford said Australia needed to reconsider whether it was possible for a small country such as Australia to continue to hold its place as one of the world's top medal winners at the Olympics.

"We need to ask ourselves, what is the appropriate measure of number of medals that we should be aspiring to," he said.

Olympics chief John Coates lambasted the report as "insulting" to Australia's Olympic achievements and to gold medal winners in lower-profile sports.

"The report is disrespectful of all the work that has been done, particularly since the 1980s, in getting us to where we are," the AOC president said.

"Is he ( Mr Crawford) telling us the gold medals won by our rowers and sailors count for nothing."

WAIS executive director Steve Lawrence said he was open to a re-shaping of the national institute of sport model, providing it produced better services for athletes.

"We are not exactly sure how that would occur . . . (but) if a new model can provide better services for athletes then we would support it."

The report said funding for sport should remain at current levels.

Ms Ellis is considering a request from the Australian Olympics Committee that an additional $110 million a year be put into sports funding.

The West Australian

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