Transcript

The social impact of sport

Russell Hoye
r.hoye@latrobe.edu.au

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Transcript

Matt Smith:

Welcome to a La Trobe University podcast. I would be your host Matt Smith and with me today is Professor Russell Hoye, the Director of the Centre for Sport and Social Impact at La Trobe University. Thank you for joining me Russell.

Russell Hoye:

Hi Matt. No problem.

Matt Smith:

You are here today to tell me a bit about the work you have been doing looking at the social impact of sport. So, can you tell me a bit about that and how valuable is sport to a community?

Russell Hoye:

Sport's usually referred to as the social glue for communities and sport is generally seen to be a meeting place – it's usually based around a race club or a football club or a cricket club or a netball club and usually it's a common meeting place for people to get involved in some sort of instrumental activity. They might want to play a sport, but all the social activities that go on with that in term of community coaching, volunteering as groups. Sport's a great leveller in terms of getting people involved, particularly with their children in most sports in terms of helping to actually facilitate the delivery of an activity, so sport's a good vehicle for community members to meet each other who might not otherwise get the chance.

Matt Smith:

Now why has it been sport that's been … you called it a glue. Why is sport that's been good at that?

Russell Hoye:

I think it's because it's club-based and most people who participate in sport have to get involved in either running the canteen or putting the sausage sizzle on, fund raising, coaching, umpiring, refereeing, they have to do those sorts of activities to actually make the activity happen, for the participants. So sport in that sense really does assist community members get to know each other, through the things that go around outside the park or the pitch or the footy ground.

Matt Smith:

What is social capital then? And how do you measure something like that?

Russell Hoye:

Social capital is one of those great concepts put up by sociologists, many years ago. Made famous by Robert Putnam's work about bowling alone in America, where he looked at a lot of indicators about social activity towards the decline of the mixing of people outside of work and home life. So social capital is actually the networks and resources that people use to deliver social outcomes. So it might be putting on a sporting event, running a church fete, being part of a congregation. Social capital is all those things that people use to act collectively, for the social betterment of their communities.

Matt Smith:

Is there a way to measure something like that?

Russell Hoye:

It is difficult to measure and ways that we've come up with measuring that, is the degree to which people volunteer in their local community. So you can measure volunteering rate as an indicator for how healthy a community is. You can also measure it by … there's a wellbeing index – how people think and how trusting they are of others, their general perception of their value of their life – some other measures like that, but it's usually survey-based and it is hard to unpack, but increasingly we're coming up with better measures to do that.

Matt Smith:

You look specifically at horse racing. What did that find?

Russell Hoye:

Country race clubs are rather unique in that they're usually quite a prominent physical space within the community, and they're used for a variety of purposes. They're not just used for putting on race events, but usually the local community market is held there, people walk their dog on the parks, there's often a golf course within the complex, they're used as community meeting halls, communities value them. But they're also great meeting places, because if you've got a racing event being held, often all the community members in a country town will be attending that, along with visitors from outside the region, so they're a great social space, where community members can catch up, form friendships, build business networking, and actually just enjoy themselves.

Matt Smith:

So, is there some sports that are actually more inclined to have a better social impact?

Russell Hoye:

That's a hard question, without biasing towards any particular sports, but most sports that are team-orientated require involvement from others to help officiate them and to coach and to volunteer to make the activities run. They are in that sort of space. Sports that are more individually based require little infrastructure, don't really require a lot of club impact, such as perhaps, golf, is one of those. Certainly there are some social activities that go around golf, but golf's been described to me by people I interview in my research as very much a personal sort of sporting endeavour, whereas playing in a footy team or for cricket or for soccer, has these necessary benefits where you have to work with others to achieve success on the sporting field. The big team-based sports, with big clubs and lots of interest from the community members about, say, Australian Rules Football, and then, down the other end of the spectrum, individual pursuits – you know, maybe cycling is one of those as well, where you can cycle by yourself and you don't need a club environment to help you do that.

Matt Smith:

Yeah. Have you seen that sport has a big social impact as well in other countries?

Russell Hoye:

Yeah, we just finished a book looking at eighteen different countries around the world, looking at participation policies, from government, and the impacts and the social setting of how sport is delivered. We look at countries as diverse as Bulgaria, to the US, to China, to India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. Westernised countries tend to have a club-based system where sport is very much a part of the culture, people understand how it's delivered, people are willing to volunteer and help in its delivery. Countries which don't have a Westernised background – the sport system is often government-delivered and government-designed, so it's a bit different in terms of how they perceive sport and its role in society. So if you compared the average Chinese athlete in an elite team, they've come through a government-sponsored, structured sporting system, whereas in Australia, we certainly have things like the Institute of Sport which assist players, but they've come out of a club-based system, so they're very much different systems that generate different levels of public support for the value of sport in the community.

Matt Smith:

Which one would you find more effective then, for developing better athletes?

Russell Hoye:

Yeah, this has been a perennial study among sport scientists about trying to work out what's the magic bullet for getting sports athletes develop the best, using the best system, and I've got to say that Australia has been in the lead for the last twenty years, in terms of our Institute system and having a centrally controlled, targeted system of supporting athletes in certain sports. And this system is now being copied, especially by countries like the UK. So they're looking to only target sports they know they can succeed in. Listen to the recent debate between John Coates and David Crawford when the latest review of Australian sports policy came out. That was the crux of it – that the Olympic movement wants all their sports well supported, because they argue that having those elite athletes supported by Australian government policy and taxpayer funds, provides the role models and the exposure of sports to get people participating. Arguably that's probably pretty accurate, but there's not a lot of evidence to say that if you're watching someone swim and win a gold medal in London in 2012, that you're going to race out and become a swimmer, overnight. There's a lot of community support, coaching facilities, all this infrastructure that's got to be around that, to make that happen. So the club-based system is, you know, still pretty good at producing talented sporting people, but it takes a lot of effort from the voluntary community to make that work.

Matt Smith:

So you've been looking at the support of elite indigenous athletes. Why is this an important concept?

Russell Hoye:

Well, particularly say in Australian Rules Football, there's a high proportion of elite indigenous people playing sport. The percentage of indigenous Australians in the country is about 3% of the population, but in AFL clubs, at the elite level, it's about 11% of the playing group choose to identify themselves as indigenous. So there's a large cohort of those players in that sporting endeavour which do require specialty support because they've often been transferred interstate from remote indigenous communities to come and play football, often away from family members and their social network, and put into usually a very crazy professional sporting environment where they've gone from being a quite good junior player, to them being put into a professional environment with all the demands of the media, training, nutrition – it's a huge step-up for any athlete, not just indigenous, but to move from interstate to play, well, particularly at a younger age, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, when they're drafted.

Matt Smith:

The social impact that the sport has on them and the support that they have from the community – does that flow back into the indigenous community as well?

Russell Hoye:

Certainly most indigenous athletes, regardless of the sporting code they're in, look to use their profile, or their skills they develop through playing professional sport, to benefit their community that they've come from. And particularly in the AFL, most of the leading indigenous players set up some sort of foundation or link back to their community. A lot of them spend a fair bit of time back in their communities, outside of the season. And a lot of them send money back to their communities, to help in supporting their extended families. So there's a lot of demands placed on indigenous athletes, which are different to the average other drafted athlete of the same age, and they need a bit of extra support because of that.

Matt Smith:

La Trobe University has a football team on campus now called Melbourne Heart. Have you been putting that to use with the sports management subjects here?

Russell Hoye:

Certainly. Melbourne Heart's been on campus now for one a half of their seasons. Our students in the Sports Management Program here enjoy qualitative exposure to that team. We've got people who help out on match day preparing the athletes for training and for competition. They help out on sponsorship servicing on the day, and we've got students who work there, and graduates who work there in the community development arm of Melbourne Heart Football Club, a lot of their staff come across and give guest lectures into our program. The CEO and the football manager assist us in design of curriculum, so the students get a lot of exposure to a professional franchise which is quite unique in a university environment in Australia.

Matt Smith:

The other thing that's going on here with sports management is that you've got a degree that you're teaching with the journalist program, which is sports journalist, and it's just finished its first year. So how has that been working out?

Russell Hoye:

Obviously the growth in terms of the interest in sports journalism, given that there's more journalists covering sport in Australia than covering politics. We started a course at the start of 2011, had our first intake, we've got about 35 students studying that course. We have got four of our sports management subjects embedded into that program, so students who come in to learn journalism, are looking that side of the equation, as well as understanding how sport's delivered, so when they finish their program, they would have had a great exposure to the operations of sports organisations, the challenges they have, so when they go and report on athlete performances, or issues within sport, they're much more informed about the background, about how sport is actually run and delivered in this country.

Matt Smith:

Is there a lot of crossover between those two?

Russell Hoye:

Yeah, I mean the students come from two areas of interest, so our Sports Management students just want to get their hands dirty in running sport in this country, whereas the Journalism students are usually journalists who have an interest in sport and therefore they choose that program. And there's not a lot of crossover between the two student bodies in terms of where they're coming from the market place. When they get to class together, they actually come with different points of view, so it's quite an interactive teaching environment, to teach both groups.

Matt Smith:

That's all the time we've got for the La Trobe University podcast today. If you have any questions, comments or feedback about this podcast, or any other, then you can send us an email at podcast@latrobe.edu.au. Professor Russell Hoye, thanks for your time today.

Russell Hoye:

Thanks, Matt.