How sports are funded

Russell HoyeRussell Hoye


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Miyuki Jokiranta:

Welcome to La Trobe University podcast, I'm your host today, Miyuki Jokiranta. And I'm sitting here with Associate Professor Russell Hoye. Russell, welcome.

Russell Hoye:


Miyuki Jokiranta:

Now, you've just recently written an article. It's based around Crawford Report. Could you tell us a little about its recent findings?

Russell Hoye:

Sure, the Crawford Report was a report done by the Independent Sport Panel. This was commissioned by the Rudd Government more than a year ago. And our commissioner report actually investigated the structure of Australian sport and where it was going for the next 5-10 years.

The major findings hit the papers about two weeks ago when it was released, and David Crawford, the chairman, was on radio and most of the reaction was about one particular aspect of the report which was the finding which is somewhat misinterpreted, was that elite funding for sport had some -- was being sort of over-supported by the previous federal governments, and trying to fund that to an excessive point where gold medals were costing $15 million each. And that was sort of the headline in the paper.

And the Australian Olympic Commission, which is a major stakeholder in all this, came back and said, "Well, if we cease funding elite sport, there's going to be some quite negative outcomes for people playing sport at the grassroots." And hence that was sort of my spark point of interest on writing this article.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

And do you find that to be true?

Russell Hoye:

Well, as David Crawford said repeatedly on radio and throughout the report, "There is no evidence to suggest," or those have been presented to him, "that says, 'If we fund Olympic success in Australian sport, that more kids and young adults who are out there playing that particular sport."

And as the Independent Sport Panel report found, there's been virtually -- no sport has come up with evidence saying, "Here's our Olympic success and here's our increased participation rate in that particular sport."

Miyuki Jokiranta:

And where do you think that disconnect happens? Why do you think there seems to be such an emphasis on funding for a major Olympic sport but then, really no dedicated support around getting grassroots sport happening?

Russell Hoye:

I think the major issue why governments like funding elite sport is it's easy to measure. They can say, "We spent this much money over this many years on particular programs," fund really concrete things like the Australian Institute of Sport, build new stadiums, send athletes overseas on plane rides to go and compete internationally.

They can say they spent all that money and here's the actual outcome of having a gold medal or a world championship ranking, or a world-leading player. They can measure player development quite easily.

Whereas if you try to measure participation rates in the community in terms of community sports, most sports don't have really an accurate list of who's playing their sport. Some sports don't have the right structures in place to capture all the participation, say netball for instance.

Netball has an elite program, a national trans-Tasman competition that's easy to look at on TV. But most netball associations at grassroots level from their eyes that's not levelly don't really measure their participation rate accurately or report that to the national body.

And there's also some commercial providers of sport that actually provide indoor netball through stadiums which are completely unaffiliated with the national body. So capturing the data about who is actually playing the sport is hard to measure, and therefore the impact of any government policy is even harder to say, "We had a direct impact."

So that's why elite sport is well-supported and easy to measure and it's the 'good news department' for the government.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

Historically, have there been many campaigns to get Aussies back into the sports? And is there successive one campaign versus another?

Russell Hoye:

Sure. Federal government policy over the last 30 years has gone through a number of changes. We've gone from funding community programs through the Mirror, actually funding community facilities; moving to the last campaign which was a mass media campaign, very popular in the '70s and the early '80s.

Then we moved to a school-based campaign called Aussie Sports and now that sort of morphed into this active after-schools community program. Also, a number of inquiries into the place of physical education and sports in schools at state and federal governments throughout the last 20 years. All saying we need more curriculum for the sport and physical activity. We've had a number of club-based programs. We've had Targeted Sports Participation Growth Program from the Sports Commission. And we had an Active Australia campaign which is a multi-faceted aspect to try to get more clubs involved, more accreditation, more professionalization, if you like, of the delivery system.

And all those policies have been entirely towards mostly children and mostly younger adults, and mostly over the last three or four years. And they have been fairly cumulatively ineffectual in shifting participation rates over the last 20 or 30 years in Australia.

Most of the sports would really appreciate sort of that consistency in the policy approach but most of those policies lie on an election cycle in the federal system. So we have this change in governments and also change in emphasis into almost do something new and reframing of all the actions.

And also, there's a fairly high degree of stuff whenever the Sports Commissions -- sort of the policy actually shifts continuously about that. Whereas in the elite participation area, it has been remarkably consistent for the last 20 years, about having an institute, having scholarships for elite athletes, paying for particular sports to be well-funded like swimming.

And other sports to actually have great support for individual athlete support, versus community sports which has been very ad hoc and not as consistent in that area.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

Are there ways to connect the two, to circumnavigate the fiscal and policy ramifications?

Russell Hoye:

The Australian Olympic Committee would argue that their role models and having elite athletes on TV is a driver of participation. Most elite athletes do put in time in community programs and go to clinics and have appearances and do all those developmental things, but it's fairly limited in terms of spreading our 500 Olympic Team across Australia. So the actual impact at the local level is quite small. The Australian Olympic Commission would argue that we have this fantastic set of role models out there and that automatically drives participation.

But as Crawford's report has found and what the evidence is there or the lack of evidence says that, "Well, this has virtually no effect." There's definitely an after-Olympic games --there's a peak of interest for a few months, about kids wanting to play that particular sport. But unless we have the right coaches, the infrastructure, the playing fields, the facilities, the officials to round up the volunteers to run bigger clubs, all those things are more systemic which are the basis of increased participation rather than this high-profile sort of a spark of interest from the Olympic Games being on TV for two weeks.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

You'd written in your report that Australia's up there in terms of the most obese developed nation. And so I'm curious as why do you think that increased lethargy has happened over time.

Russell Hoye:

Most of the rise in obesity has come about the lack of PE and emphasis on sport in schools; increase in suburbs where people drive rather than walk to school; and increase in leisure opportunities for electronic gaming.

The usual things which have actually driven low levels of participation safety, in communities is one aspect as well that where children don't walk to the local park, they have to go with their parents and therefore, the time they have is restricted in terms of actual physical playing has been reduced.

So all those societal changes and the shift in how we lived has had a marked impact on how we actually have our general levels of physical activity in the community.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

Do you think the Crawford Report will have any weight in changing policy?

Russell Hoye:

It certainly seems to have shaken the trees. And there's lot of murmurings amongst particular sports that Crawford got it exactly right. Some of the Olympic Sports are siding with the Australian Olympic Commission obviously, but in general I think, the report was correct and highlighted three particular things. Us having inadequate amount of PE in curriculum for children in sport; reconfiguring how our national and state sporting bodies actually construct and deliver sport; and also, having an effective and efficient structure in place that supports that delivery.

And the other three things that the Crawford Report really highlighted and most people come out and say, "That's fantastic." The push for that will come out when the federal government actually reacts to the Independent Sport Panel report and comes out with a new policy sometime in 2010.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

Do you have any personal commentary on the Crawford Report that you'd like to add?

Russell Hoye:

In general, the report has been criticized for some over-emphasis an AFL talk on the type representation on the actual Independent Sport Panel. But I did get over 600 submissions. There was a wide-range in discussion.

Most sports come out in support of it. It's a fairly balanced report. It does offer a number of recommendations not just to reduce funding for elite ports. It certainly doesn't say that. It just questions whether continuing to fund sport in the same way we have done for 20 years is the best way.

I suspect that the outcome of the Crawford Report will be actually increased funding for both areas of sport. There'll be a bit more money for the Olympic sport and elite programs, and a there'll lot more money put in for community sport, particularly because where the policy area for sports sits in the federal government has shifted to the health department rather than being in some other department which was about media and culture and things.

So we now have a sport being well-placed about health and have health oriented outcomes. And so we will a lot more emphasis on sport policies and driving participation as well as supporting and continuing to support that elite outcomes.

Miyuki Jokiranta:

Thank you very much, Russell Hoye.

Russell Hoye:

No problem. Thanks, Miyuki.

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