Sports Funding

 Tonight I refer to sport in my community and more broadly across New South Wales and Australia. There are fewer facilities than ever for young kids who want to play sport, whilst the funding allocated by State and Federal governments to elite sport is nothing short of an obscenity. As we continue to charge headlong down the garden path that is elite sports funding, it is time to consider what is really important to governments. It seems bizarre to me that, on the one hand, we have fewer fields, fewer parks and fewer goalposts, and yet every election the pork-barrel brigade comes out of the woodwork with promises of expensive, state-of-the-art high-performance facilities for our elite—and only our elite—athletes.

For most of the Australian public, sport is not—and has never been—about performance. It is about participation and enjoyment. It becomes joyless when we reduce it simply to winning and losing, which is why many of our sports have become less and less enjoyable as the number of coaches goes up and up. Our governments have no responsibility to ensure that our sportsmen play well; it is not our job. We elect governments to ensure our health, happiness and safety. When governments consider sport they should do so only through the prism of what it can do to make our society healthier, through exercise, and happier, through the equally important social aspect of sport. Winning and losing is a matter for the Darren Lehmanns and Ange Postecoglous of this world—not for governments.

Of course we wish them well, but if I had a choice between Australia winning 20 gold medals at the next Olympics or significantly reducing the rate of childhood obesity, I would choose the latter without hesitation. The problem is that politicians want to get photos taken with current sportsmen and women, and want to be there for medal and trophy presentations—they want their moment in the sun. But what we should be celebrating as a nation is the fact that every Saturday morning kids play their game because they love it, no matter how little or how much sporting ability they have. What we should be concerned about is not whether Australia gets a bronze medal in curling at the next winter Olympics, but whether our children are out there on a Saturday morning playing sport and not sitting in front of a television or a computer screen.

Consider the fact that both State and Federal governments have poured public money into swimming over recent decades and yet many of the already highly paid beneficiaries of this funding seem more interested in taking Stilnox and harassing their fellow athletes than competing for Australia. The performances that were Australia’s 2012 Olympic campaign rankled with the public not because of the poor results but because of the apparent lack of application or spirit shown by many of our athletes. Our response as a nation was to agree on a joint State-Federal agreement on elite sport, known as the “Winning Edge”. I believe it would be more accurately named “The Thin Edge of the Wedge” because it is beginning a process that will entrench disadvantage for grassroots sport—for the men, women and children whom we all represent in this Chamber.

The Australian Sports Commission allocated $120 million to elite sport last year, including $8 million for swimming, $6 million for yachting and $5 million for basketball. Meanwhile, New South Wales negotiated a grant from the commission to go, according to the commission’s website, to the delivery of programs and services in “such areas as Indigenous sport, coaching and officiating, junior sport, sport for people with disability, organisational development, club development, harassment-free sport and women in sport”. How much did we get for those worthy and socially valuable causes? It was $235,000. Compare that to the $120 million allocated to elite sport. Our top-earning basketballer makes more than $235,000 in a week, and our top-ranking golfer makes only marginally less. Elite golf, by the way, got a 17.7 per cent increase last year from the Australian Sports Commission, pushing it through the magical million-dollar mark.

This is a shameful inequality, and one which must be reversed. It begins with us as State governments—we must demand more funding for grassroots sport and refuse to be part of any agreement which places elite sport at the top of the pile at the expense of the many other participants. As much as we politicians love having our photos taken with footballers and cricketers, our job is to do things that will be of real and meaningful benefit to the people of our State. All the gold medals and all the world cups on Earth will not comfort us if our already worrying levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease spiral out of control. We need to get our priorities right.