It’s time for a universal sport and physical activity policy

By Greg Blood. Originally published in The Roar, 25 June 2019.

I think there is a need for the Australian government to reassess how funding will lead to an increase in sport and physical activity.

The government in 2018 released its ‘Sport 2030’ plan that sets a goal to reduce inactivity of Australians by 15 per cent by 2030.

Prime Minister Morrison’s announcement at the Australian Tennis Open made me reassess current government sport and physical activity policy. Morrison announced that 3000 girls will receive funding of $12 million over four years to stretch their tennis skills.

This funding to increase tennis participation is given to a sport where the Australian Open can provide Tennis Australia with a substantial windfall to divert back into its sport.

This begs the question; should triathlon, volleyball, water polo, rugby codes and the like be given additional funding to increase their female participation, or other participation such as people with a disability or migrants?

To me this announcement points out that government funding for sport participation and physical activity is not necessarily universal and often selective with political overtones.

It is worthwhile looking at current Sport Australia, the government’s primary sport and physical activity agency, funding programs related to participation. These include:

In summary, $230 million will be invested in sport and physical activity initiatives over five years.Advertisement

These current grants programs are similar to previous sport grant programs over the last 30 years, in that they are selective, often with limited funding periods and are not universal.

Individuals or groups that receive the funding from these current programs may be good at knowing about grants, or completing grant applications. But how does the government improve the participation of the many individuals and groups that miss out on these grants?

For instance, Sport Australia reported that the community infrastructure grants scheme received over 2,000 applications totalling more than $390 million in grant requests, but their funding pool was $28.3 million.

What happens when the grants to sport and physical activity organisations expire?

To me, Australian government sport and physical activity funding over the last 30 years has been too hotchpotch due to variations in funding.

State governments provide some participation funding to state sports organisations and athletes. Many state governments now provide sports vouchers to children.

For example, the New South Wales government provides $100 per school-enrolled child to cover registration, participation and membership costs for sport, fitness and active recreation activities. Several state governments have similar schemes but with means testing.Advertisement

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But what financial assistance is given to adults with low incomes?

It has been extensively demonstrated that preventive health programs including sport and physical activity have the ability to improve the health of Australians and, in the process, reduce health system costs. In fact, Sport Australia states that “one study predicts Australia faces $88 billion of extra health and social costs over the next ten years if people don’t get moving”.

I wonder if it is now time for the government to look at making sports club, gym and exercise class membership as a tax deduction. This may provide an extrinsic motivation for Australians to increase their participation in sport and physical activity. Those on low incomes or receiving government financial support should be eligible for sport and physical activity vouchers.

At the moment, I can donate to a registered charity and receive a tax deduction. This policy often dictates how much I will donate.Advertisement

The proposed tax deduction policy (which may include means testing) and vouchers for low income earners will immediately increase Government expenditure but it will be more universal than selective current government policies. It should ultimately reduce enormous expenditure on health and improve the health and wellbeing of Australians.

Sport Australia is currently running a ‘Move It AUS’ campaign. Will this campaign to get Australians moving fail due to the costs of participation in a period where wage growth has been slow and low? Maybe tax deductibility and low-income vouchers will increase the likelihood of Australians to participating in sport and physical activity programs.

With the upcoming Federal election, there is the opportunity for the major political parties to make a very positive and long term statement about the importance of sport and physical activity in the lives of Australians.

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