Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Role of Sport for Government


The Role of Sport for Government
Sport plays a major role in Australian politics. The Federal Government has a Minister for Sport, and an Office of Sport, which is responsible for a significant budget. The Office of Sport comes under the prestigious portfolio of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Federal Government sees sport as an important element of our culture. Both Government Ministers and Shadow Ministers ensure they have a presence at most of the major sporting events in our country.
A report commissioned by the Rudd Labor Government, the Crawford Report, is a focus of this paper. This report was a major development in the future of Australian sport and could potentially play a major role in increasing the focus on grassroots sport in the country.
The Crawford Report was a review of the Australian sporting system undertaken in 2008, published the following year. The report aimed to investigate the current structure of sport in Australia. One of the important findings recommended by Crawford (2009) was that the Federal Government’s focus on success at the Olympics and Paralympics has resulted in grassroots sport being significantly underfunded.
This essay will cover topics such as how governments see the role of sport in today’s society, where government funding for sport goes and whether the Federal Government in particular should be funding sport in the way it does, or should a different model be adopted.


When the word sport in Australia is mentioned, almost everyone starts listening. Sport is considered a huge part of the Australian way of life. Nearly all Australians watch sport in some form whether it be cricket, Australian football, hockey or netball. Many of us tune in to our televisions, radios and increasingly the internet, to keep up to date with the latest sporting action.
Many people play sport as well, particularly on weekends where adults and children alike spend countless hours running around for their local sporting club. Today however, grassroots and community sport is receiving less attention than when the Whitlam Government first allocated funding towards sport. Currently it is estimated by the ABS (2011) that 64% of the Australian population aged 15 and over are involved in sport in some way, whether it be coaching, playing or volunteering.
Sport is becoming an increasingly important political tool for the Federal and State Governments of Australia. This paper will discuss how sport in Australia is currently being funded. It will also talk about the Crawford Report and the government's response to this paper as well as the impact of the Sydney 2000 Olympics had on sports funding. It will finally talk about whether the current funding structure is appropriate for Australian sport and if not where changes need to be made.

How Australian Sport is Funded[edit]

Australian national sport is currently predominately funded by the Federal Government. The main focus of the Federal Government's funding is to promote Olympic success. Many sports in Australia such as Canoe Kayak rely on good performances from their athletes to secure funding from the government every four years.
In Australia there is a disproportionate amount of Federal Government funding to elite sport, which receives much more funding than grassroots and community sport. The Australian Sports Commission (2011) received $168 million for elite sport and just $87 million for grassroots sport for the financial year of 2009/2010.
The Federal and State Governments of Australia fund sport using a trickle down effect (Hogan & Norton 2000). The trickle down effect is when money is pumped into the top end of sport where elite athletes and high performance sport receive the majority of the funding (Hogan & Norton 2000. This funding is given to advance sports science, facilities, coaching and the athletes in an attempt to increase Australia's sporting prowess at the elite level.
This is a short term view. Children may be inspired to play tennis after Sam Stosur won the 2011 US Open, but this will be difficult if there are no opportunities or facilities at the local level.
It is assumed by State and Federal Governments, and it is the argument of many prominent Australians such as the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) President John Coates that gold medals won by Australians inspire younger generations to play sport. There has been some research conducted into the the trickle down effect on local grassroots sport which has indicated there has been little or no increase in grassroots sport participation (Toohey 2008).
Ultimately, the Australian Government funding of sport has lacked emphasis on grassroots participation where most sport in this country is played.

Sydney 2000 Olympics[edit]

The selection of Sydney as the host city of the 2000 Olympics was huge for Australian sport. It was an opportunity for the city of Sydney and Australia itself to be in the spotlight and show the world what Australians are capable of producing. As a result of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to award the games to Sydney, funding of Australian sport greatly tipped in favour of elite sport, particularly those who compete at Olympic level (Toohey 2010).
With the Federal Government's investment in hosting the Sydney Olympics, it was the expectation that grassroots and community sport would benefit, however (Toohey 2010) pointed out that the increase was minimal and over a longer period it may have even decreased.
In the lead up to, during and immediately after the Sydney Games, the Federal Government, the Australian Sports Commission as well as the IOC continued to promote the Olympics and the impact it would have on a local sporting scale (Toohey 2010). This is known as the trickle down effect where inspirational performances at the elite level of sport are said to result in greater participation at a local sporting level. (Green 2007).

The Crawford Report[edit]

The Crawford Report was released in 2009. It was an inquiry into the current structure of Australian sport commissioned by the Rudd Labor Government in 2008 under the Minister for Sport, South Australian Senator Kate Ellis.
The report was commissioned to investigate the current structure of the Australian Sporting System and the changes that need to take place to ensure that Australian Sport remains viable and ready for the future both at the community and grassroots level as well as the elite level (Crawford 2009).
Among the Crawford Report's many recommendations included redirecting much of the Olympic Funding towards sports that are much more popular with Australians such as Rugby League and Cricket (Crawford 2009). The Report into The Future of Sport in Australia (Crawford 2009) found that there was very little evidence of high profile sporting such as the Olympics or the Australian Open (tennis) having a positive effect on participation levels in the community. On this basis Crawford (2009) suggested that if the current funding structure of the 'trickle down effect' (Hogan & Norton 2000) was to remain in place, that funding at the elite level should be in part redirected to sports such as tennis, cricket and soccer. This is because Australians are more likely to participate in these sports during their lifetime than many sports which receive Olympic funding from the Federal Government.
One of the other key findings of the Crawford Report (2009) was that the Federal Government along with the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has been clearly focusing on success at the Olympic and Commonwealth Games and to a lesser extent the Paralympics. As a result of this focus, (Crawford 2009) suggests that community and grassroots sport has been very much underfunded and has been neglected as a result.

The Government's Response to Crawford[edit]

Mark Arbib speaking at the official opening of the Jerilderie Library, 7 July 2009, Photo by Mattinbgn
The Australian Government produced a response to the Crawford Report which is known as Australian sport: the pathway to success, 2010. This response outlined the areas of the Crawford Report that will be accepted by the Government as well as outlining other areas such as expanding the role of women in sport and increasing opportunities for the disabled to participate in sport and recreation activities (Australian Sport:the pathway to success 2010).
Not long after the report was released the Federal Government changed the Minister for Sport. Kate Ellis was replaced by Senator Mark Arbib in September 2010. Despite the Federal Government releasing its response to Crawford (2009) and accepting several of the report's recommendations, [Sport:the pathway to success 2010) the focus under Senator Arbib has again returned to Elite sport in the lead up to the London Olympics in 2012.
Arbib claimed in his speech at the Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) lunch on the 28th January 2011 titled Keeping the Green and Gold on the Podium (2011) that the connection between Australia's elite athletes finishing on the podium and young children participating in sport at the community level cannot be ignored. Arbib would be correct if the connection between performances at the elite level and increased participation by our children had been shown to be the case. It was found by Hindson et al (cited in Hogan & Norton 2000, p. 212) that there is no evidence that the trickle down effect increases participation in sport. The 1994 study by Hindson et al (cited in Hogan & Norton 2000, p. 212) went onto suggest that it may even reduce participation at the local level, particularly if there is a large gap between the elite athletes performance and the ability of community participants.
After all the good work of the Independent Sports Panel and despite the Federal Government accepting many of the Crawford Report's recommendations, since the new Sports Minister Senator Arbib has been appointed we are now back to where we started with funding primarily focused on Olympic success.
The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet's Office for Sport (2011) suggests that the Federal Government is committed to supporting sport at the local level to promote healthy lifestyles. However it could be argued that current funding of sport does not reflect this statement.

Where the focus should be[edit]

Youth soccer in small town USA. Photo shot by Derek Jensen (Tysto), 2005-September-17
There should be an increased focus on grassroots and community sport in Australia. In the financial year of 2009/10 the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) allocated $87.8 million to grass roots and community sport (ASC Annual Report 2010). This is compared to elite sport which received $168 million (ASC Annual Report 2010).
There needs to be a change in the current structure of funding for Australian sport. There are a few reasons for this. One is the fact that as the Crawford Report (2009) pointed out grass roots and community sport in Australia is a fundamental part of sport in this country and as a result it must be funded appropriately. This means that the funding should be increased to provide greater benefits to all Australians.
One of the other major reasons why the current structure needs to be changed is the declining health of many Australians. The Australian Bureau of Statistics(ABS 2008) has suggested that more than half of Australian adults are overweight with numbers greatly increasing. The Federal Government has said that it is greatly concerned about this trend, but their funding of grass roots and community sport does not reflect this. Sport and physical education could play a major role in addressing the issue of health of communities. The Government's funding of sport should reflect this increasingly important issue.


Sport is a major part of Australian life. Elite sport and success at this level has been something on which we as a country pride ourselves. However the current "trickle down" method of funding used by the Federal Government has been shown by the extensive research undertaken in the Crawford Report not to work, despite what we are told by John Coates and Mark Arbib. As a result it is about time that the current funding structure be changed to better address community needs of all Australians. With rising obesity levels and sedentary lifestyles of many, there needs to be more sports funding at the community level, where our younger generations could be encouraged to participate. Elite sport would not suffer as a result of this change, but it may benefit in the long term.
There is no evidence that inspirational performances at the elite of sport increase participation levels at the local level. Surely it is time for the current funding structure to change to one which increases its focus on grassroots sport or what could be called a "bottom up" approach. If this is done all areas of Australian sport would benefit and at the same time improve the health of all Australians.


Arbib, M 2011 'Keeping the Green and Gold on the Podium', Key Note Address presented at the Australian Paralympic Committee President's Sports Lunch, Sydney, NSW, 28 January
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, Sports and Physical Recreation: A Statistical Overview, Australia, 2011, ABS, Canberra, viewed 2 November,
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008 More than half of adults are overweight and the numbers are increasing: ABS, Canberra, viewed 2 November,
Australian Sports Commission 2010, Annual Report 2009-2010, Australian Sports Commission, Canberra
Australian Government 2010, Australian Sport The Pathway to Success, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
Crawford, D, Bouris, M, Mostyn, S, Tye, P & Carter, C 2009, The Future of Sport in Australia, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Office for Sport 2011, Canberra, viewed 2 November,
Green, M 2009, Podium or participation: Analysing policy priorities under changing modes of sport governance in the United Kingdom, International Journal of Sport Policy, vol 1, no. 2, pp 121-144.
Hogan, K & Norton, K 2000, The 'price' of Olympic gold, 'Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport' vol. 3 no. 2, pp 203-218.
Toohey, K 2010, Post-Sydney 2000 Australia: A Potential Clash of Aspirations Between Recreational and Elite Sport, The International Journal of the History of Sport, vol. 27, no. 16-18, pp 2766-2779.
Toohey, K 2008, 'The Sydney Olympics: Striving for Legacies – Overcoming Short-Term Disappointments and Long-Term Deficiencies' The International Journal of the History of Sport, vol. 25, no. 14, pp 1953-1971.

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