|Issue No 87||10 March 2001|
The Locker Room
Kate Lundy on Sports Funding
Labor's spokeswoman for sport looks at the vexed issue of balancing public funds between community and elite sports.
If there is only a limited pool of funds available for sport, is it justifiable for Government to spend millions of dollars on Olympic sport if it means that thousands of ordinary Australians may miss out on the chance to participate in sport altogether? I don't think so.
Striking the right funding balance between community sport -be it competitive or recreational - and elite sport, is the major challenge for the Federal Government. This elusive balance will only be found if measuring the relative value of sport to our society goes beyond medals and winning and into issues of healthy lifestyles and even Australia's cultural identity.
Cynics would no doubt claim that elite sport will always be supported because its high-profile success and mass spectator audiences carry far more political weight than does a small community of sporting people.
My fear is that if this holds true, then our mighty sporting ethos has a very limited future and our obsession with elite sporting success may if fact undermine our sporting ethos.
Australian sport has traditionally been socially inclusive and 'elite' sport in meant that you're good at it, not that you went to an exclusive sporting institution. We are known and respected for playing hard, but fair.
We cheer loudest when the underdog wins and we still rejoice in the notion that regardless of where you are from, no matter how rich or poor, you still have a chance of 'making it' in sport. That's what made the America's Cup win so important. It wasn't just a yacht race. It was about Australian beating the might and money of America.
These reflections on our national character reinforce how closely sport is linked with Australian cultural identity. We embrace all-comers with our strong multicultural spirit - a spirit which in turn has led to community sport becoming a powerful social ballast in times when job security is diminishing and people are feeling uncertain about the future.
Our heroes and heroines are the sports people who achieve national or international success. Our gossip columns are filled not with movie stars, but sporting celebrities. Through our interest and devotion, we urge these sports people to take their rightful place on the top of the list of people Australians most admire.
However, our ability to feel a bit of community ownership about our collective sporting success is now under pressure. Unfortunately many sports have evolved in ways that have alienated sporting communities from their elite associations. Big business and the corporate sponsorship dollar now shape most major sports and their respective public 'events'. The sporting community from which they derived from is abandoned, or at best, given mere token attention.
Our sporting culture has grown a new dimension - one governed by the ability to extract advertising revenue from sporting events. This has changed the economics of elite sport and led to some mighty power struggles within corporate sport, often at the expense of community sport.
Too often the raw material for these money making machines - the athletes - are forgotten. They have become commodities in the competitive sports economy. Far more attention must be paid to the long-term career path of Australian athletes. It's not surprising given this environment, that over the last decade major US sports such as basketball, baseball and football have all experienced strikes and disputes over the distribution of revenues.
Australian sporting culture is yet to reach the heights of sponsor and media dominated 'events' which have so alienated fans overseas. Fortunately for Australians, sport still remains a shared experience that provides an intrinsic sense of our national character. Yet this will only remain the case if there is a direct relationship between elite and community sport at the local level.
Elite sport that relies on spectators and viewers to sustain its advertising and sponsorship base is not manufactured in a vacuum. Therefore junior development initiatives must be equitable, even if this means subsidising rural sports programs. In many respects, we can measure the depth of a sport through its community sport infrastructure, hence the importance of boosting rural and regional sport for young people.
Governments must realise that Australia's sporting success and ethos will not last unless recreational and competitive community sport is adequately supported through sensible policy and public investment.
Elite vs Participatory Sport
Getting the balance right between participatory sport, where we all get to play, and elite sport, where a few get to play and most get to watch, is not easy.
Community sport, be it simply for the fun and enjoyment of participation, a competitive endeavour or as a stepping stone to professional sport, is being largely marginalised and forgotten in the pursuit of Olympic Gold.
This is ludicrous, as the Olympics should be a catalyst for building community sport in Australia. The value of hosting the Olympics is as much the sporting legacy it leaves behind as it is the prestige and claimed economic benefits.
Whilst it's easy to focus on statistics about participation and talk about the general benefits of playing sport, it is a far more complex challenge to quantify the positive outcomes that come from physical activities involving families, friends, workplace colleagues and communities which share a common passion for their sport.
A truly effective sports policy must reflect the benefits of physical activity from an economic, social, medical, educational and cultural perspective.
The great benefit of hosting an Olympic Games is that the massive interest and investment in sport is an opportunity to improve the general state of sport at all levels. This once in a lifetime opportunity must be used to set innovative agendas and specific goals regarding the future of sport, health and recreation for the next millennium.
Inequities in sporting opportunities
Although in economic terms sport is worth up to $12 billion annually, with Australian households spending over $4 billion every year on sport and recreation (not including monies spent on gambling), not everyone is getting a chance to be involved. There is a role for Government to ensure genuine opportunities exist for everyone to participate. These are the 'unglamorous' issues in Australian sport: gender and race.
Male participation rates in sport is far greater than female rates, yet since 1948 Australian women have won 40% of Australia's Olympic Gold medals even though they have competed in only a quarter of all events! Only 11% of women are national presidents of sporting organisations and women comprise less than 25% of sporting national executives.
Imagine how well women would do if they were given equal access, equal facilities, and equal funding?
Too many grounds and recreational centres are not suitable for safe community use. Other reasons many young (and not-so-young) talented people do not continue with sport is lack of public transport to facilities, inadequate lighting of grounds and car parks, lack of proper change rooms and toilets, lack of privacy, and almost no access to childcare.
Interview: Working Woman
Cheryl Kernot on women in the workplace, Labor's male culture and where Meg went wrong.
Activists: Honouring Our Heroes
Anna Stewart changed the lives of Australian working families by helping women achieve balance between the competing demands of work and family.
Women: The Future is Female
Julia Gillard outlines the campaign to increase female representation within the Australian Labor Party.
Unions: Sweatshops Ė Beyond 2001
FairWear convenor Debbie Carstens looks over a unique partnership between churches and unions to end exploitation in the textile industry.
Politics: The Battle for Bennelong
Many trade unionists are working to kick John Howard out of office. But only one woman has a chance of kicking him out of his own seat. Meet Nicole Campbell.
International: Border Skirmishes
Alana Kerr travelled to Thailand to observe first hand the battle to organise Burmese women workers in exile.
History: Inside the Ladies Lounge
The McDonald sisters run Trades Hall, and have for over half a century. The building canít speak about what has gone on in that time, but Lorna and Elaine probably know it all.
Satire: Taliban to Put One Nation Last
The Parliamentary fate of Pauline Hansonís One Nation party was further obscured today as key fellow right-wing extremists moved to distance themselves from the controversial Queensland politician and the group she founded and leads.
Review: Seven Steps to Slavation
Jenny Macklin details the seven barriers that stand between women and a better working life.
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