This paper considers the policy environment which has surrounded federal government sports funding decisions since federation, concentrating on the period from the 1970s from which time the federal government has become increasingly involved in funding sport at the elite and participation or grassroots levels.
The Australian Government has only relatively recently become involved in framing, delivering and funding sports policy. Prior to the 1970s government involvement in sport for the most part was at the local level. Indeed, local government still spends more than state and territory governments and the Australian Government on sport and recreational activities. However, since the Whitlam era, various federal governments have been persuaded, albeit to varying degrees, that there are a myriad of benefits to be gained from funding sports participation at grassroots levels and excellence in performance at elite levels. These benefits range from improvements in the health of the population and greater social cohesion to economic benefits.
The World Health Organization (WHO) points out:
Physical activity and healthy sports are essential for our health and well-being. Appropriate physical activity and sports for all constitute one of the major components of a healthy lifestyle, along with healthy diet, tobacco free life and avoidance of other substances harmful to health.
Available experience and scientific evidence show that the regular practice of appropriate physical activity and sports provides people, male and female, of all ages and conditions, including persons with disability, with wide range of physical, social and mental health benefits. It interacts positively with strategies to improve diet, discourage the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, helps reduce violence, enhances functional capacity and promotes social interaction and integration. Physical activity is for an individual; a strong means for prevention of diseases and for nations a cost-effective method to improve public health across the population.
Numerous studies agree that physical activity is important in maintaining good health. Regular physical activity reduces cardiovascular risk in its own right and also improves levels of cardiovascular risk factors, such as excess weight, high blood pressure, low levels of HDL and Type 2 diabetes. Research concludes that physical activity helps protect against some forms of cancer and strengthens the musculoskeletal system, helping to reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis and the risk of falls and fractures.
Taking part in physical activity improves mental wellbeing by reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Further, it has been argued that sport contributes to social capital: the ‘features of social life—networks, norms, and trust—that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives’.
Studies have shown that sport makes a significant contribution to national and local economies. Hence, sport and physical activity contribute to the Australian economy as participants purchase clothing and footwear and sports equipment as well as pay subscriptions and fees to clubs and organisations and admissions to sporting venues. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), $8 293.8 million (1.5 per cent) of the total expenditure by Australian households in 2009–10 was spent on selected sporting and physical recreation goods and services.
Workplace activity programs have been found to reduce short term sick leave and health care costs as well as increase productivity. Australian corporate fitness programs have been associated with a reduction in absenteeism of between 23 and 50 per cent. One study estimated that on the basis of a 20 per cent reduction in absenteeism this would result in a saving of 1.5 days per worker per year, and this in turn would approximate to a net benefit of $848 million to the Australian economy.
In short, sport and physical activity not only make people healthier and more productive; they contribute to the nation’s economic and social capital.
This paper briefly considers the policy environment which has surrounded federal government sports funding decisions since federation. It concentrates on the period from the 1970s from which time the federal government has become increasingly involved in funding sport at the elite and participation or grassroots levels. Funding sport has brought with it a number of dilemmas for federal governments. These include questions about what to fund; should federal governments fund community sporting facilities for example, or is it more cost efficient to support more local government involvement in this area. One area where it appears a consensus has developed over time relates to the division of funding between elite and participation sport. It can be argued this consensus can be traced to an underlying belief that funding which results in elite athlete success in international arenas will in turn motivate grassroots participation. The consensus has meant that despite some rhetoric to the contrary, and some attempts to alter government thinking, federal funding for elite sport has always exceeded that provided for community participation.