Australian sport’s governing bodies want to work together to strengthen neglected codes
There has been a flurry of activity in Australian sport this week with two old foes surprisingly teaming up to fight for the survival of its diversity.
Heeding warnings of a break down in social cohesion, a rise in national obesity, and the growing dominance of a handful of rich sports, Sport Australia and the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) have joined forces to push for more government funding across the sector.
Speaking to The Ticket, Sport Australia chairman John Wylie, and AOC chief executive Matt Carroll suggested sport can only succeed if the two bodies work together.
Only last year the organisations were so at odds, their presidents allegedly had to be separated in a private box at a Nitro Athletics meet.
“From the moment I started in the role at the Australian Olympic Committee I made it my business to go down and meet with them [Sport Australia] … to ensure we’re all on the same page, we are all here for sport,” Mr Carroll said.
“Obviously our membership of Olympic sports is pretty wide, it covers the country and all sorts of sports, and to ensure those sports succeed a strong working partnership with Sport Australia and the AIS is essential.”
The Boston Consulting Group Intergenerational Review of Australian Sport, commissioned in 2017, listed a number of risks to Australian sport if investment in the sector continued to diminish in real terms.
Mr Wylie said deciding how the sports funding pot was divided between grassroots and elite sport was not an either-or situation.
“We think the two absolutely go together. We think that in order to have a successful elite sport and to have Australians succeeding on a world stage it’s absolutely fundamental to have a strong grassroots and to have strong and increasing community participation,” he said
“Increasing participation in community sport has multiple benefits across the community — it’s obviously good for health and wellbeing, it’s good for education, and all the international studies are that on average healthier kids do better at school.
“It’s good for mental wellbeing and its good for social cohesion.
“The agenda of Sport Australia is very much about trying to get Australians — and particularly young Australians — up and active.
“That’s the genesis of our ‘Move It’ campaign, and in the long term we see that as contributing directly — having a very strong relationship with — seeing Australians wear the green and gold and standing on the podiums of world sport.”
Open letter demands better funding
An open letter written by some of Australia’s most recognised international sports stars this week called on the Federal Government to increase sports funding.
Asked why the Government should increase its annual $130 million contribution to the sports sector, both Mr Carroll and Mr Wylie referred to the multiplier effect of investing in sport.
“It’s an investment in the future … and investment in the grassroots is going to deliver fantastic outcomes for the country and actually create savings for the country,” Mr Carroll said.
“It’s an investment in creating the Olympians and Paralympians who can inspire the next generation.”
Swimming Australia spends about half as much per year as one AFL club’s spending cap. (AAP: Christopher Jue)
But Mr Wylie warns sports need to find savings themselves and not just ask the Government to fill any funding holes.
“What we’re saying to sporting organisations is that the government is doing its bit, the government did its bit this week with a $50 million investment, but it’s also incumbent on the sporting organisations to organise themselves for success and effectiveness in today’s world,” Mr Wylie said.
“There are some sports today that have got 21 CEOs, 21 CFOs, and 21 business plans and mission statements and we think there are better ways for sports to organise themselves.”
The challenge for many sports is surviving in a market dominated by professional sports like the four football codes and cricket.
Swimming Australia, for instance, receives $12 million a year in government funding to prepare its teams across all age groups, for all competitions including the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The spending cap of one football department, at one AFL club, is $23 million a year.
The so-called rich codes not only benefit from lucrative television rights deals but also have the benefit of government funding.
“The state governments have invested billions of dollars in stadiums around the country which looks after five or six of the codes, but for the rest of sport that doesn’t help at all,” Mr Carroll said.
“But it allows those codes to build their participation base and their performance businesses which means they’re attracting the talent, or can in the future attract more of the talent, what we’re on about is a diversity of sports.
“I do hear what John’s saying about our sports having to be efficient … but it’s also about those sports being able to go about their business, driving participation and bringing elite talent through.
“The extra investment will have a fourfold return because of the reach and scope and the use of volunteers that sport brings to the table that other industries, which government’s invest in, don’t.
“Sport can benefit Australian society across health, wellbeing, education and all those good things that we want, and also put us on the world stage through soft diplomacy and trade.”
On that front, Sport Australia and the Australian Olympic Committee, are singing in unison.
“We think that an investment in sport produces a very significant multiplier benefit for the economy, for the nation, and it is one of the great, central unifying forces of Australian life,” Mr Wylie said.
“Our core message is for Australia to have the leading international reputation as a healthy, active, sporting country known for our sports participation and international sports success, known for our integrity — our unwavering commitment to integrity in sport — and known for our thriving, healthy and well run sporting organisations.”
That integrity will be under the spotlight again on Monday when Cricket Australia releases the findings of an Ethics Centre culture review after fallout from an orchestrated cheating scandal earlier this year.