Australian sport is at the crossroads.
Wherever you look there is a crisis. Even in the good news areas like the increase in participation in the “new” team sports for women, there are fundamental issues that no-one is addressing.
Most critically there is a lack of understanding about the importance of grassroots engagement in physical activity – whether it be on an individual, recreational or organised basis.
There are three essential changes which must be made.
We’ve probably lost a good part of the currently emerging generation to the nation’s obesity epidemic. It doesn’t mean that we forget about its health – just that we will need to find another solution, a substantially more expensive one.
What’s critical is that we don’t lose the next or any after that.
The answer is twofold. Number one and way more importantly than the second is to build a change in culture and attitude. An approach that doesn’t include notes from parents to excuse their children from physical activity and one which has children understanding that their physical literacy is the foundation for life and every other learning.
Secondly we must re-invest in high quality and attractive physical education opportunities in schools like never before. It’s very simple - Australia’s health budget cannot withstand any further increase in inactivity.
Everyday there’s a call for something else to be woven into the school curriculum. But there’s no point in preparing young Australians to be aware of this, that and the other if they are not fit and healthy enough to experience or practice what they’ve learned.
If it’s too hard to manage an adequate physical education program within each school’s curriculum or budget then perhaps we need to think about doing it centrally – maybe even through a super-partnership between federal and state governments, schools and sporting organisations.
The cold hard facts are that some Tasmanian schools are doing a great job but there are just as many who don’t seem to care enough. Schools that were once the great nurseries for local, state and national sporting teams now don’t even have any of their own.
But dig down below the surface and it’s plain to see that it is particular principals, teachers or parents who are the driving force behind the physical activity in those schools and take a serious approach. When they move on, so go those programs with them.
Change two is a wholesale revision in the respect for the volunteer community. Yes that’s the 1.8 million strong community that according to the federal government’s own report, Sport 2030, delivers 158 million hours of free service each year.
But government mantra is to ignore the army that makes the most crucial delivery of physical activity possible and assume a panacea can instead be found in independent boards and paid staff that have little or no connection with the core product.
A massive re-empowerment of the volunteer base to harness a currently disengaged and disappointed juggernaut of passion is by far the most low-cost and effective solution.
Thirdly, and where the new money comes in, is to reduce the barriers to accessing healthy activities and pastimes.
That means finding a solution to the cost of transport to get the participants to the activity or opening up school gates after hours and at weekends to free up ovals and halls to community groups. It means cutting out the red tape and needless regulation applied by local government and venue operators to prevent those with good ideas and initiatives that will make a difference from getting on with the job.
And when public money is used to develop a well thought-out or needed facility, that its effectiveness and accessibility is not eliminated by handing it over to some bean counting quango or authority.
It also means real and effective funding for sport and recreation programs where the dollars are not eaten away by consultancy fees and administration costs.