If Australia's sporting landscape still looks "very white and very male" by the time the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games roll around, Kieren Perkins says he will have failed as Australian Sports Commission CEO.
The legendary swimmer says he was "disheartened but not surprised" to see a lack of diversity among the nation's top athletes and coaches when he returned to sport after working in banking following his retirement from the pool.
Asked at a National Press Club address on Wednesday if it might take 20 to 30 years for a generation of leaders to emerge and truly promote diversity and inclusion, Perkins said that was a horrifying prospect.
"My worst-case scenario is I have to wait for all of us to die before things get better, 'Let's hang back, let's wait until the old guard die and then things will get better'," he said.
"Just be a human being and pay attention to the people around you, listen to what they are telling you and learn and grow from it.
"We need to hold leadership accountable to build more representation, to actually start to break up the deeply entrenched biases and norms that sit within the sporting system."
Perkins pointed to the make-up of this year's Commonwealth Games team; less than 10 per cent of coaches were female and just 13 per cent of athletes were born overseas, compared with 29 per cent of the general population.
He added just two per cent of athletes in the team identified as Indigenous, compared with more than 10 per cent in AFL and NRL.
"I was proud and inspired by our athletic performances, but during that time I did reflect whether everyone in Australia saw themselves in the team," Perkins said.
"It's important our sporting sector becomes truly representative of a modern, progressive, and diverse Australia.
"By 2032, if sports still look the same as they do today, I certainly haven't done my job properly."
Quizzed on the latest prominent scandals in Australian sport - including AFL club Hawthorn's alleged racist treatment of Indigenous players, and Essendon hiring a CEO linked to a church promoting homophobic views - Perkins said leaders needed to listen to their athletes rather than look for excuses.
"Whenever we see an issue pop up, so many people rush to defend and say, 'We didn't do that'," he said.
"The inability for us to acknowledge another person's experience, to just sit quietly and listen and understand that person's experience, to give us an opportunity to learn from it, is one of the things I personally struggle with.
"We need to build more accountability and get more diversity across the system to build that representation."
Australian Associated Press
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