Sport has the power to change the world

Sport has the power to change the world. Nelson Mandela

Three of Melbourne's sports leaders spoke to a full house at the John Scott Meeting house about the role of sport in Australian society. Robert Manne and Lisa Hasker chaired the discussion with panelists Mick Malthouse, Margot Foster and Russell Hoye.

Watch the debate

Sport has the power to change the world

What the audience said

The audience had plenty to say about sport using the Twitter hashtag #ideasandsociety

What the speakers said

The panel was introduced by Simon Armstrong, a student in the Master of Management (Sport Management) program and President of the La Trobe University Water Polo Club.

Professor Russell Hoye talked about the many different ways that sport is understood by different groups and institutions in society. Professor Hoye said that an economist might note that sport is a 'significant driver of economic activity', while a sociologist might point to the high rate of volunteerism in sport.

Similarly a public health researcher might say sport isn't achieving enough given the rates of obesity in Australia, while a politician might say that sport is an important social institution worthy of government funding.

Although there are many positive narratives about sport, Professor Hoye presented the academic, analytical view and reminded the audience sport can only help 'some people', in 'some contexts' - but not all.

'While we assume that sport provides an  ideal environment for the creation of positive social norms and values, and their reinforcement and development, there is a surprising lack of robust evidence that illustrates how this happens within sport,' Professor Hoye said.

Mick Malthouse, Carlton Coach and Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at La Trobe, admitted it would be tough for him to fit more than 40 years of sporting experience into a ten minute talk, but nonetheless he left the audience with some fascinating insights into life in professional sport.

Malthouse's talk ranged from his memories of playing football as an eight-year-old in Ballarat through to his least-favourite task as a coach: telling a player they're no longer needed on the team.

Margot Foster, a former Olympic rower, talked about how lucky she was to be able to balance her sporting profession with studying and then working as a lawyer. Her experience is in stark contrast to many modern professional athletes who must focus solely on their sport and cannot have this balance between sport and other pursuits in their lives.

The Q&A session at the end of the panel led to some interesting debates – including a discussion about the role of the media in sport. Hoye questioned whether the growth of sport through media exposure had come at a cost to players, while Malthouse pointed out that media is all part of the parcel for AFL players these days.

More about our speakers

Mick Malthouse

Mick Malthouse is a former premiership winning Australian Rules footballer and current AFL coach at the Carlton Football Club. Malthouse led the West Coast Eagles to their first ever AFL premiership in 1992, then coached Collingwood to four grand finals, with success in 2010 and is currently second on the all time list of most games as a coach. Mick is also a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at La Trobe University.

Margot Foster

Margot Foster is a lawyer by profession, an oarswoman by sporting background and a sports administrator by way of light relief. She competed in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, winning bronze and gold medals in 1984 and 1986 respectively. She has been in private practice as a lawyer throughout this time and has had, and continues to have, numerous roles on sporting and other bodies. These have included the Australian Olympic Committee, International Rowing Federation Masters Committee, Melbourne 1996 Olympic Bid, Australian Sports Commission, New Zealand Sports Commission and Gymnastics Australia. Margot is currently the Chair of Vicsport and a board member of VicHealth, amongst other involvements.

Russell Hoye

Professor Russell Hoye is the Director of La Trobe Sport and the Director of the Centre for Sport and Social Impact at La Trobe University. His areas of expertise include corporate governance, volunteer management, public policy and the role of social capital in nonprofit organisations. Russell is the editor of the Sport Management Series produced by Routledge and past President of the Sport Management Association of Australia and New Zealand. Follow @russhoye on Twitter.

Chair: Robert Manne

Robert Manne is Emeritus Professor of Politics and Convenor of the Ideas and Society Program at La Trobe University. He is a leading public intellectual and commentator and is the author of Left, Right, Left: Political Essays 1977 – 2005; Making Trouble: Essays against the New Australian Complacency and three Quarterly Essays, most recently Bad News.