Friday, March 22, 2013

Leveling the Playing Field (Part Two) | Sports Business Insider

?Leveling the Playing Field? is a two part series based on Brad McCarroll?s 18 year career as a teacher, sports administrator / consultant, Director of Mutual Sport,?as well as observations as a community volunteer coach for the past five years. Contributing to this series is Anne Bunde Birouste, the founder of Football United with over 25 years of international practice, policy and advocacy work, focusing on health and development and working with vulnerable populations.

This is part two of Brad?s report, which? will discuss the challenges faced by national sporting organisations, the role that Social Responsibility can play and the impact ?Development Through Sport? organisations can also play. It is important to note that ?development through sport is different to development of sport. The former refers to the utilisation of sport as a tool to address social, health, educational and community issues. Organisations that operate in this area are concerned with the development of people and their communities. Development of Sport is concerned with the improvement of sport including all of the processes and programs that support the community sport system and its talent pathways.? Because the core focus of each practice is totally different ? trying to use development of sport practices to engage the disadvantaged is fraught with challenges.

A question of priorities for the National, State and Professional Sporting Organisations

Increasing the accessibility of sport for the disadvantaged has basically been made the responsibility of national sporting organisations with resources for such programs driven by funding and participation plans with the Australian Sports Commission. These organisations also have responsibility for running and marketing their national competitions, national teams, elite player pathways, and overseeing the complexity of the community sport system that includes competitions, volunteer management, coach and official training and support. With a small proportion of a participation grant from the ASC these organisations are then expected to implement programs and initiatives that overcome the barriers to participation for parts of society that are the most difficult to engage. The sports then implement a range of traditional ?Development of Sport? practices which is only scratching the surface. Multicultural / Indigenous Officers with National or State wide responsibilities, small grant programs, reduced fees, online resources for volunteers, translation, webinars and promoting club participation DO NOT address the depth and breadth of the social issues. Successful engagement will occur by designing the sport offering to the needs and social-cultural realities of local communities and most importantly taking the sport to where the children and young people are ? schools!

Professional sport will always have other priorities whether it be an Australian Crime Commission Report, dealing with player behaviour, expansion, governance reviews, negotiating collective player agreements, bidding / organizing major events etc etc. For example since 2003, there have been approximately 30 new professional sporting franchises established in Australia across all of the major participation sports including Football (11), Netball (5), Rugby Union (2) Cricket (8), NRL (1), AFL (2) and Basketball (2). All of these are financial and human resource draining endeavours, it is any wonder the sports can?t prioritise grassroots or those beyond their system.

Compounding this, is that each sport is tied to the afore-mentioned traditional ?Development of Sport? processes that will almost always see the ?interests of the sport? put in front of the ?interests of people?. To drive engagement and participation for the groups of people who are most difficult to engage, requires programs to be developed and implemented in the ?interests of people and the community? ? a development THROUGH sport focus. So when there is little to no short and medium term return on investment from running resource intensive programs for the people ?who are outside their systems?, sports will do very little beyond what they secure government funding for. The fact is they will always have other strategic priorities and they are to far removed from the grassroots clubs and even further from the multi-cultural and disadvantaged communities to truly drive the social, health and community outcomes ? especially for the non-participants.

?Long-term funding approaches are needed to address this issue and improve the ineffective distribution of short term, short sighted funding (Crawford, NSWDSR).?

?Development through Sport Organisations

Development through sport organisations on the other-hand, have a sole focus on developing people and communities to drive social, community, health and educational outcomes. All of the outcomes that we know sport can achieve when structured and delivered the right way. These organisations include Football United, Rugby Youth Foundation, Clontarf Foundation, Midnight Basketball, Helping Hoops, Sport Without Borders, The Big Issue, RecLink and Red Dust Role models to name a few. Many of these organisations work closely with National and State Sporting bodies, though unfortunately run around in competition to each other (and the governing bodies) seeking funding from various non-sport related government agencies. Many of these organisations have been evaluated and implement best practice approaches. Football United in fact has robust and International first research that Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth acknowledged ? ?Football United (FUn) is one of the only programs in Australia that has proven to enhance social inclusion for refugee, migrant and low SES children and youth in school settings? (ARACY 2012) see link for Football United 3 Year Australian Research Council Funded Research -

It would be difficult for any of the programs and initiatives run through the sport system by governing bodies to genuinely produce equivalent robust evidence based research that shows their programs are achieving equivalent social cohesion, education development and health outcomes

These organisations need to become a key pillar of the Australian Community sport system, not having to compete with each other nor compete with far more powerful and influential sporting bodies.

?Government and NGO?s have historically supported one-off, short-term activities that limit the development of genuine community capacity and undermine the potential for sustainable community-run sport programs (CMYI and Crawford)

The Social Responsibility of Sporting Organisations is to remove their barriers to participation.

Many of the national sporting organisations and professional sports have some focus on corporate social responsibility and partner with other development through sport Charities and non ?government organisations , usually through in-kind support ? equipment donations and access to development staff. However this support is diluted through their engagement often with dozens of other charities and causes (all credible and just as important in their own right), but which have very little or nothing to do with their sport.

Sporting bodies have such limited resources (all would be classified small to medium sized enterprises) ? in fact they are tiny compared to banks, insurance companies, telco?s etc. Why do they spread their finite marketing and community engagement resources across so many causes and charities? It makes no strategic sense. Mostly, their social responsibility focus only leverages their marketing and PR expertise not their core business of running a sport. Banks support financial literacy programs for the underprivileged while telco?s make technology more accessible for disadvantaged communities. None of these organisations spread their charitable support to the extent of sporting organisations.

Isn?t enabling participation in each respective sport by working to remove barriers, the number one social and moral responsibility of these organizations, and a better focus for scarce / core resources? By working with their stakeholders to fund and resource initiatives that reduce barriers to participation sporting bodies can utilise their existing sport management expertise, players and media profile to increase engagement with their game while driving long term social benefit in partnership with organisations that have that as their core focus. As a result there will also be far better long-term and sustainable social outcomes driven when resources of sporting bodies and development through sport organisations are combined.


Change isn?t that difficult. To improve the participation rates and quality of outcomes driven by sport participation, the following recommendations are designed to: provide a clear, transparent and accessible picture of sport in the community; elevate school based sport and physical education as by far the best environment of overcoming barriers to participation; elevate the role of development through sport organisations in implementing a more comprehensive social outcomes based approach for sport; refocus the Australian Sports Commission?s largest community sport resource, the AASC, program to drive real and long term outcomes by building the capacity of both schools, development through sport organisations, and clubs in local communities.

1. A complete review of the sport in the community including:

  • An audit /stocktake of club based sports, non-affiliated sport for development organisations and private providers of sport. ie how many organisations and programs are being implemented and for who.
  • An audit / stocktake of the involvement of and capabilities of the volunteer system ie. How many volunteers, what roles are they undertaking and what level of training do they have.
  • Determination and publication of actual participation numbers across all sport including clubs, schools, community programs and development through sport organisations.
  • Establishing publically accessible performance indicators for participation in the community system, schools and around participation and coach / volunteer education etc.
  • An audit of the cross government financial support given to sport for development organisations ? to inform a consolidation of support and determination of key cross government agencies that should be collaborating.

2. A complete review of physical education (PE) / sport in schools including assessment of:

  • Number of hours children are participating per week, and how they participate.
  • Audit of school based sport participation including private provider programs.
  • Analysis of the quality of PE in primary schools.
  • Analysis of accessibility to school sport and PE for both high schools and primary schools.
  • Review / Analysis of interschool competitions and tournaments in terms of participation rates, accessibility and quality.
  • A review of teacher capabilities and motivation for PE / sport in primary schools.

3. All professional and governing sporting organisations must be required by the Federal government in their Governance Agreements to make ?development through sport? organisations a key pillar of their Corporate Social Responsibility and Community strategy through stringent partnerships that focus on resourcing and financing of the relationships appropriately.

4. Sport for Development NGO?s and Charities provided a budget source from the Federal government to drive social and community outcomes in partnership with NSO. These organisations then charged with the implementation of parallel sporting programs utilising schools and their facilities and linking participants with the club systems over time.

5. Change the AASC to Active School Communities and change the focus of regional coordinators to sport development concentrating on improving the quality of sport delivery in schools, clubs and other community organisations through improved training of teachers and volunteers and facilitation of relationships between schools and clubs.


This information will not be new to the majority of people working in the community sport industry. Some will argue that the proposals are occurring, citing endless examples of the relatively few athletes that have overcome adversity, as well as programs and initiatives designed to overcome the barriers. However current policy, funding mechanisms and practices are really only scratching the surface. The non-participation rate and the lack growth is damning ? with limited leadership, conviction, transparency and coordination, well-resourced and policy driven approaches to increase participation are few and far between.

The changes proposed do not represent a drastic re-structure of a complete industry. The resources are all there, from schools to clubs to the AASC program, to charities / NGO?s to community departments. The biggest challenge to this recommended approach is the power that is wielded in the board rooms of all of the major participation sports combined with their ability to publically stand against change that may reduce their government funding. However I can?t see this any other way than it is in the self ? interest of all of the sports to address this issue, ideally together. To not do so will likely reduce the talent pool leading to a reduction in performance of the elite teams and athletes thereby threatening their revenues from corporates and more importantly television. Beyond this self-interest it is also their social responsibility and the core responsibility of government to ?level the playing field?.

Image courtesy of Football United


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