What is the future of ‘Sport 2030’ in the post COVID19 world?

By Greg Blood

In May 2018, I published the article How long can the proposed National Sports Plan survive? It is worthwhile to revisit Sport 2030 , known as the National Sports Plan, due to changes in Australian sport leadership, undetermined Australian Government decisions and significant impact of COVID-19 on sport as well as other parts of society.

Sport 2030 – National Sport Plan was released in August 2018 with the ambitious vision for Australia “to be the world’s most active and healthy sporting nation, known for its integrity and sporting success”. It had four planks:

  • Participation – the measurable goal being to “reduce inactivity among Australians by 15 per cent by 2030”.
  • High performance – the goal for Australian high performance system to be recognised as world leading and our sporting champions to be a positive influence on the community.
  • Sport integrity – the goal to improve the integrity of sport particularly in terms of doping, betting, corruption and child safety.
  • Sport industry – the goal to ensure the sports sector is strong, viable, contemporary and inclusive with high quality successful organisations.

Sport 2030 was very aspirational and provided few measurable targets.

I have been reflecting on the Sport 2030 in recent times due to recent developments in the Australian and international sport and in particular the significant short- and long-term impact of COVID-19.

Leadership Changes in Australian Sport

One of the issues I raised in May 2018 was the frequent turnover of Australian sport leaders and its impact on the Sport 2030. Well, there have been significant changes in the leadership of Australian sport since its launch in August 2018.

One of the good developments to occur from a longevity viewpoint was that the Coalition Government that instigated the Sport 2030 was returned at the 2019 Federal Election. But Senator Bridget McKenzie, the Minister for Sport, who championed the Sport 2030 resigned over her conflict of interest in the ‘sports rorts II’ affair. The new Minister for Sport, Senator Richard Colbeck is the also the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians. So besides dealing with the sport and aged care issues related to COVID-19, his attention is also heavily focussed on the current Age Care Royal Commission and its likely important recommendations.

There have been significant changes at Sport Australia. The leadership has changed with the resignations of CEO Kate Palmer (Jan 2020) and Chief Marketing Officer Louise Eyres (Dec 2019). Both these leaders were strong proponents of improving participation and inclusion and implemented the ‘Move It’ campaign. Currently Rob Dalton is the acting CEO and there has been no indication when a permanent CEO will be appointed. As someone who was employed at Sport Australia for many years, I found CEO stability was important for sustained sport development i.e. Jim Ferguson 1990-2000 and Mark Peters 2001-2008.

Sport Australia Chair John Wylie appointment finishes in November 2020 and it has been suggested that he will depart at this time. If Wylie leaves in November, he will be Sport Australia’s third longest Chair after Peter Bartels AO (1997-2008) and Ted Harris AC (1984-1994). Besides these changes from an Australian Government sport policy viewpoint, three CEO’s have departed major Australian sports organisations – football (David Gallop), rugby league (Todd Greenberg) and rugby union (Raelene Castle).

I was recently reviewing some unpublished work on sport development in the 1970’s and it was evident that the rapid turnover of Australian Government Sport Ministers led to much indecision in policy development during this period. Let’s hope it’s not a hallmark of the 2020’s.

Current Progress of Sport2030

What are the major achievements of Sport 2030 to date from my viewpoint?

Sport Australia launched the ‘Move It’ campaign in August 2018 to encourage  Australian adults to find at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day, and 60 minutes of activity per day for children. There was a burst of promotional activity and its marketing cost $8.5m across 2017/18 and 2018/19 financial years as reported in Senate Estimates. But this promotion appears to have died down mid 2019 due to Sport Australia budget limitations. I always believed that for this worthy campaign to be successful it needed to be sustained over many years like ‘Life Be In It’ was in the 1970’s.

There were grants programs in 2018-2019 Federal Budget to increase participation – Participation Grants ($92.1m including Sporting Schools), Better Aging Grants ($22.9m) and the now infamous Community Sport Infrastructure Grants ($102.5m – originally $27.9m)

National High Performance Sports Strategy (PDF 1.954KB) was released in November 2019 and is a collective strategy of Australia’s high performance sector, led by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and National Institute Network (NIN). Strategy established guiding principles and system partner roles and responsibilities.

The area of sport integrity is where the most substantial progress has been made due to the passing of relevant legislation by the Australian Parliament. National Sports Tribunal Bill 2019  has led to the National Sports Tribunal being operational since March 2020 with John Boutbee AM its inaugural CEO. Australian Sports Anti‑Doping Authority Amendment (Sport Integrity Australia) Act 2020 legislation has led to the establishment of Sport Integrity Australia (SIA) from 1 July 2020 with ASADA’s current role now within its functions. David Sharpe, ASADA CEO was appointed the inaugural CEO.  SIA is a major recommendation from the Report of the Review of Australia’s Sports Integrity Arrangements (PDF 3,960KB) and will consolidate the resources of ASADA and sport integrity components of the Sport Australia and Department of Health. I hope SIA will have adequate resources to manage the difficult and complex areas of doping, child and adult abuse in sport, match fixing and member protection.

The final area of the Sport 2030 is a “stronger sports system through strong, viable, contemporary and inclusive with high quality successful organisations”. Sport Australia is aiming to achieve this goal through the One Management – a single operating model for sport. Several national sports organisations have transitioned to this approach – Sailing Australia and Golf Australia but there has been resistance in several sports. For instance, to date there has been a failed attempt to establish  AusCycling., as several  Cycling Australia’s state and territory bodies voted against the proposal, with only five of the eight organisations voting in support. While this represents majority support, a ‘yes’ vote of 75% was required for road and track to join AusCycling as a whole.

Unresolved Issues

An issue that has not been publicly resolved to date is the future operations of Sport Australia and the AIS. In October 2019, Rod Kemp AM (former Minister for Sport) was tasked with reviewing the efficiencies of the Australian Institute of Sport and Sport Australia. I believe the review has been presented to the Australian Government but COVID-19 and delayed Federal Budget have more than likely derailed the final decisions. Sport 2030 also stated that there would be a review of the Australian Sports Commission Act 1989 . The review of the Act is required as Sport Australia has in recent years moved into the physical activity arena and several functions have been transferred to SIA. The outcomes of the Kemp Review will also most likely will impact on any future Act.

In the 2018/19 Federal Budget, the Australian Government committed more than $150m to ‘drive national sports participation and physical activity initiatives to get more Australian’s moving more often’. $100.6m was eventually allocated for Community Sport Infrastructure Grants program. This provided much a needed boost for community sport but the Senate Inquiry into the community facilities grants program has raised many issues in relation Australian Government’s and Sport Australia’s decision-making process in the allocation of facility grants. In addition, several eminent constitutional legal experts have argued that the Australian Government did not have the power to award these grants under the constitution. I distinctly remember the 1994 sports rorts and this led to the Australian Government avoiding this type of sport facility funding program for nearly 25 years. Let’s hope that this is not an outcome of the current Senate Inquiry.

So up until March 2020, Sport 2030 was moving forward in many places with a few distractions – changes in leadership, uncertainty about future of Sport Australia and AIS and Australian Government integrity in relation to sports rorts II.

COVID-19 and Sport 2030

The devasting impact of COVID-19 on Australia will have significant short- and long- term impacts on Australian sport. COVID-19 to date has impacted on sport in the following ways:

  • Major professional sports organisations loosing significant revenue due to reduced broadcasting revenue, sponsorship and attendances.
  • Major sports organisations – professional, national/state sports organisations have temporarily or permanently shed staff and programs due to reduced revenue.
  • Community sports programs in national and state sports organisations have been cut back due to staffing redundancies. For instance, it was reported that the NRL may lose 100 development officers and Cricket Victoria has axed 12 positions in its development department.
  • Major sports events – 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been postponed for a year and there is concern whether major sports events In Australia such as the 2020 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup (Oct-Nov 2020) and Australian Tennis Open (Jan 2021) will be held.
  • Community sport has been significantly impacted with cessation of competitions and viability of many community sporting clubs.

State Governments have assisted many state sports organisations in the short-term through grants or reductions in fees. Australian Government’s Job Keeper has assisted some sports organisations.

Sport Australia’s expertise has significantly assisted Australian sport through the crisis through the development of – AIS Framework for Rebooting Sport and Return to Sport Toolkit . These resources have assisted state and territory governments in determining how sport – professional and community sport – can restart their competitions as COVID-19 is controlled in the community. Sport Australia has repurposed some of its participation grants programs to assist NSOs.

COVID-19 led to the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games for a year. The Australian Government on 14 June 2020 announced that the AIS would be allocated an additional $50.6m over two years to ensure baseline support for NSO high performance programs. This funding will allow Australian athletes to prepare for 2021 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic and 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. This early decision has meant that NSO’s did not have to wait until the Federal Budget on 6 October 2020 and hopefully will keep employed critical high performance staff.

In the next five years, I will be examining how COVID-19 and other issues impact on the goals of Sport 2030.

  • How stable will be the leadership of Ministers of Sport, CEO’s & Chairs at Australian Government and peak/ national/state sports organisations. In my experience, stability builds on foundations and instability often results in going backwards or stagnancy. Rugby league, rugby union and equestrian have already encountered turmoil in this area.
  • What findings from the Kemp Review will the Australian Government implement? Issues that the Kemp Review might have considered include – AIS becoming a separate entity again (it existed in its own right 1981-1987), Sport Australia’s participation funding activities moved to the Dept of Health for a broader health prevention approach and the  future role of the AIS national training centre in Canberra.
  • What will be the level of Federal government funding to national sports organisations – will it decrease, plateau or increase? In the 1970’s, funding plateaued due to the severe economic crisis and the need to reduce government expenditure.
  • Will the Australian Government lock in longer term funding for participation as it has seemingly done for high performance? Currently, a high percentage of the recent funding for participation (highlighted above) has been short term grant programs or Sporting Schools which is constantly up for renewal. Will Sporting Schools survive or be replaced by a broader sport/physical activity program?
  • There is likely to be a reduced sport workforce due to declines in revenue in professional sports organisations (particularly cricket, AFL, football, rugby codes and netball) and possibly stagnant Government funding to sport. Will sport loose talented and experienced sport professionals to other fields of endeavour or overseas and what will be the job prospects of many of those currently undertaking sport degrees at universities?
  • Will Sport Australia’s ‘One Management’ model gain more acceptance due to the need to reduce expenditure and achieve more efficiencies within national/state sports organisations? Will Federal and State Ministers of Sport adopt One Management model? Currently several state sport ministers have expressed concern about this model.
  • Will inclusive sport policies and funding for those with a disability, women, indigenous, culturally diverse or LGBTQI decline, stall or prosper? During a recent Play by the Rules online presentation it was argued that these groups will play an important role in helping sport prosper in the future.
  • What will be the investment into talent development by the AIS, state institutes/academies, national sports organisations and professional clubs? Will investment be directed more at current high performance athletes who can bring immediate success and revenue or to talent development for long term sustained sport success? Football Federation of Australia abandoned its AIS men’s program and is now reliant to some extent on A-League clubs for high level youth development. I’m not sure if A-League clubs will devote a sufficient level of resources for youth development in the next five to ten years.
  • Will the Australian/State Governments decide to direct resources to promotion non-organised sport over organised sport in order it meet the Sport 2030’s goal to reduce inactivity among Australians by 15 per cent by 2030? COVID-19 highlighted many Australians taking up unstructured activities such as walking, running, cycling and home fitness. Recently published article noted recent surge in bicycle sales.
  • With higher unemployment and reduced working hours likely for several years, what assistance will be provided to low income families and individuals to stay involved in community sport and help meet the goal to reduce inactivity among Australians by 15 per cent by 2030? I noticed that the ACT will be examining the impact of COVID-19 on sport participation.
  • How will sports organisations embrace technology to improve services and operations? Zoom type committee meetings may encourage more people to volunteer as they are not required travel to a venue for meetings at night. COVID-19 has seen more organisations using technology for coaching and officiating – will this be expanded?

These are just some of the many issues that most likely will need to be addressed in the next few years for the Sport 2030 to achieve its objectives. Some argue that COVID-19 will lead to significant long term changes in Australian society. My question is will Sport 2030‘s existing framework help sport to move forward or will it need to be reformulated due changes in Australian / State Government objectives and/or expenditure and the organisation of sport in Australia?

The six-year Olympic and Paralympic Athlete Program launched by the Keating Labor Government in 1994 and continued by the Howard Coalition Government in 1996 even though it was making extensive government expenditure cuts during its first term in office. By staying the course on this six-year Program during difficult economic times, Australia had a very successful 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Let’s hope the Australian Government and other major stakeholders (state/local government, national/state sports organisations) recommit to Sport 2030 in a difficult economic environment. The goal to reduce inactivity among Australians by 15 per cent by 2030 is critical for the health of the nation.

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