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Grassroots sport urgently needs better funding – society depends on it

Tuesday, 26th March 2019 at 7:15 am
Andrew Cairns
Grassroots sport and community recreation play an important role in getting people active, producing a myriad of benefits for physical and mental health – it’s time to invest, writes Andrew Cairns, Community Sector Banking chief executive officer.

Tuesday, 26th March 2019
at 7:15 am
Andrew Cairns



Grassroots sport urgently needs better funding – society depends on it
Tuesday, 26th March 2019 at 7:15 am

Grassroots sport and community recreation play an important role in getting people active, producing a myriad of benefits for physical and mental health – it’s time to invest, writes Andrew Cairns, Community Sector Banking chief executive officer.

It’s a rare Australian adult who doesn’t remember a grazed knee from the sporting field, a stomach churning with pre-race butterflies or the loud hurrah as their childhood teammates scored a goal in the dying seconds of a game.

Grassroots sport is a key experience growing up in Australia. It provides lessons in teamwork, rewards for input and valuable leadership opportunities. It’s where many children fine tune dealing with nerves and negotiate the highs, lows and in-betweens of competition.

But grassroots sport – and its positive impact on society – is at risk of being eroded. A shocking statistic shows that it already is. Two out of three Australian children are not getting enough physical activity.

This is not due to a lack of sporting clubs. It is more complex than that.

Part of the challenge is many grassroots clubs are severely underfunded. They survive year-to-year with outdated facilities and ageing equipment while struggling to attract members, keep volunteers and deliver a quality sporting program.  

Being run by mainly volunteers trying to source meagre funds from sponsors and grants often leaves clubs with little time to really focus on higher aims including improving processes, marketing to potential members, building coaching and officiating experience, and strengthening the skills of their volunteers.

Volunteers burn out and families, whose expectations around experiences for their children have drastically changed in recent decades, turn away.

The answer is to invest in grassroots sport, to provide facilities with adequate space for equipment storage and for it to be a given that there will be, at every sporting club, decent changerooms with enough toilets and change space. Sporting clubs don’t need the very best equipment but they do need the safest options that meet modern standards.

This isn’t a nice to have – it’s a vital component of keeping our society healthy. Grassroots sport and community recreation play an important role in getting people active, producing a myriad of benefits for physical and mental health.

But increasingly, children and adults are not getting enough exercise with more than half (56 per cent) of adults not meeting physical activity guidelines. Lack of physical activity is the fourth-leading cause of chronic health problems in Australia.

Already two-thirds of Australian adults and one-quarter of Australian children are overweight and obese. The forecast is frightening – in less than 10 years (by 2025) 33 per cent of children are predicted to be overweight. Among adults, 67 per cent of women and 74 per cent of men are also expected to tip the scales.

Unless there is a major intervention, Australia could face $88 billion in extra health costs over the next decade.

Sport isn’t just for elite athletes; it’s the glue that brings many communities together – urban groups, migrant communities, remote and drought-affected townships, and people living with disability or trauma are just a few.

Sport is a language that crosses all boundaries. Alongside inclusion and diversity, it fosters the leadership opportunities and healthy lifestyles that underpin strong communities.

The saddest part of this picture is that across our nation sporting clubs are filled with dedicated volunteers. Many commit a lifetime to their sport. They bring with them passion, professional skills and a desire for children and adults alike to grow on and off the sporting field.

These volunteers have the capacity to strengthen the Australian community, to keep us healthy, active and engaged. If only they didn’t have to focus so much of their attention on filling in grant applications for new toilets or lighting and chasing sponsors for meagre contributions.

The Australian Sports Foundation, an independent sports fundraising body that was formed by the Australian Sports Commission in 1986 and the only organisation to offer tax-deductible donations for sport, is one group that has been working to champion this change over the last three decades.

Concerned about the level of investment in grassroots sport and the subsequent decline in physical activity amongst both adults and children, the foundation is empowering clubs across Australia by providing project support and fundraising expertise as well as the opportunity to create projects that will make an impact on a variety of cause areas through their small grant’s programs, Giving4Grassroots and Sports4Everyone.

In late November, the Australian Sports Foundation hosted the inaugural Prime Ministers’ Sporting Oration in Melbourne, bringing together businesses, philanthropists and influential individuals. It is hoped that the oration – set to become an annual gathering of business leaders and decision-makers – sparks a fire that drives transformation.

When former prime minister Julia Gillard took the stage as the event orator, she urged the Australian community to support grassroots sport at a local and regional level. She highlighted the role sport plays in our mental health and that a little money can make a real difference. By empowering clubs who can then provide a solid foundation for kids to be active, they are able to follow their dreams, participate in sports they love and play an active role in our community.

We couldn’t agree more. 

Andrew Cairns  |  @ProBonoNews

Andrew Cairns is the CEO of Community Sector Banking.

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  • Avatar Stephen Fiyalko says:

    One factor contributing to this demise is the lack of centralised policy cohesion, application and funding in the development, maintenance and use of existing sports and recreation infrastructure which is often overseen by local government. Decisions are often made at the local level subjecting sporting group applicants to the strength of their political connections to the local Council, the prominence of their sport (eg cricket vs football vs soccer) and the availability of facilities to use. Well-meaning Councils do what they can with limited resources but are by their very nature fragmented in their response to community need. Thus the quality and availability of facilities on offer can vary widely from one local government area to another even just kilometres apart. Many sporting clubs, depending as they do on volunteers often don’t have the nous to navigate the often politically tinted funding processes whereby vote-conscious politicians may make a value judgement as to which group they want to have a picture taken with the presentation of the cheque. Not true you say, maybe in your area, but not in others. In addition, each organised sport will have a code which sometimes requires access to facilities of a given standard. How well the sporting body collaborates with state and local government on the development of the code and the cost to government in applying that code is problematic. If government funding and planning does not support the implementation of that code one can imagine the fragmented response by local government, (eg in the area of sports field lighting). Then there is the issue of local amenity which can derail the use of facilities in highly populated areas. In the context of community groups competing for limited space amongst competition between a plethora of sports that is not surprising. So, a small club may have to take what they can get and often with shared access. The support offered by NFPs is invaluable but limited given the nature and scope of the problem. My point is that without a more serious drive by State and Federal government with guidelines, stronger interaction with sports governing bodies, more targeted funding things will not likely improve. In addition, much stronger support needs to be given to sporting clubs to strengthen their administration and organising abilities and identify and utilise their own membership networks, skills & resources to navigate government funding and regulations. How many clubs approach Council with a please please lack of confidence attitude not recognising or effectively utilising the membership gold mine that they have. This is where NFPs with those abilities can make a real difference in training and funding the have not sporting clubs to do even better for themselves.

  • Patrick says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Andrew’s comments about the important role that grassroots sport plays in a healthy and cohesive society, and the Australian Sports Foundation is committed to addressing some of the funding issues by helping local clubs and schools raise funds to meet their local needs – be they facilities, equipment, lack of coaches or even uniforms for their teams. However, I think Stephen’s comment is also on the money (excuse the pun!) when he says that it isn’t just about funds – funds need to be targeted, and clubs need to be smarter about how and who they ask for help. Increasingly, fundraising through the Australian Sports Foundation is seen as a key part of the “funding mix” for projects that are important to the local community. We work with a range of funders and stakeholders – from clubs and community organisations, to local, state and federal government, and other organisations such as Bendigo and Community Sector Banks. Demonstrating that a club has a viable and well-thought through plan to raise donations from the community can play a vital role in unlocking funding from other sources, and the Sports Foundation has a range of tools and resources to help clubs do better in this regard.

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