The ‘Ideas Factory’ of Australian Sport: the emergence of the Confederation of Australian Sport

History of Australian Sport Policy Series: Part 8

By Greg Hartung AO

Influence from within

The emergence of the Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS) as a new, and effective, sport advocacy group was having an influential political role in the formulation of sports policy from the mid-1970s.  It had become the “go to” organisation for both Government and Opposition to test ideas and to receive advice and policy suggestions. 

The other great influencers, less publicly noticeable, but just as effective in the development of policy were the Officers within the Department itself – those Officers previously in the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development and now within the Sport and Recreation Branch of the Department of Home Affairs. As well as having the ear of the relevant Minister, the Department had at its disposal access to some of the most knowledgeable sports policy practitioners in the country. 

As covered in Part 7 of my series on the emergence of Australian sport policy, the senior managers in the department provided leadership and guidance to the Sports Advisory Council and the work of the inter-department committee into sport policy.  The Department in 1979 produced what it called an “ideas” paper outlining the parameters of possible sport and recreation policy. This paper influenced the work of the Sports Advisory Council report and the cross Departmental review.  It captured the research previously undertaken by the Cole report of the Australian Sports Institute Study Group. The role of senior management within the department was perhaps unsurprisingly supportive of a continuation and expansion of the Commonwealth’s role.

The Department, in effect, complemented the role of the CAS.  The ideas paper, while acknowledging the constraints imposed by the government’s over-riding Federalism policy and fiscal conservatism, maintained community pressures had also played a part…sport had received pre-eminence because of political pressure and an easily identified Commonwealth role.

Overflowing with Ideas

The Paper was comprehensive in its coverage of policy suggestions across physical fitness, recreation, sport, facilities, sport development program, coaching and fund raising.  It captured the status of a very wide-ranging debate about the future direction of policy and added to what had become a growing list of reports and studies.

The Department agreed that sport needed national co-ordination.  It referred to the then structure of the Australian Commonwealth Games Association (ACGA) with 10 sports, the Australian Olympic Federation (AOF) with 27 affiliated sports and the Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS) with 70-80 affiliated sports. With respect to the ACGA and AOF, the Department speculated about the benefit of amalgamation to establish “some form of administrative structure which would help sports to help themselves”.  It described CAS as the main sports lobby group across all sport but said it tried to play a dual role while developing its own sports projects.

Lottery and Foundation still on the cards

The Department was reserved in its advancement of a sports lottery which, it said, could in theory be an additional source of funds but which would require a great deal of negotiation with States. It seemed more positive toward a Sports Foundation which, it suggested, could be a mechanism where both the public and private sectors could contribute to a common fund for sports development.

It suggested that a Foundation might be able to offer tax deductions for donations and, if necessary, donors could remain anonymous. It might also have a positive effect on assisting the smaller sports which attracted limited funds from government and sponsors. 

Among the ideas canvassed with the Minister, the Department promoted:

  • fitness testing for 14 to 17-year-olds at set intervals to better understand how standards are changing plus a number of fitness programs at State level;
  • A continuation and expansion of Commonwealth support for the successful public fitness campaign “Life. Be in it”;
  • Industrial Recreation – where the private sector could be offered incentives to provide recreational opportunities for employees, including facilities and competitions;
  • Increased support to recreational organisations such as the Royal Australian Institute of Parks and Recreation and the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation;
  • Further improvement in the Sports Development Program to increase assistance to sports for administration, coaching, international travel, hosting international events in Australia, research and information dissemination;
  • International Sports Facilities;
  • National Sports Lottery;
  • National Coaching Accreditation Scheme;
  • National Sports Foundation;
  • A National Sports Bureau (similar to the Australia Council in the Arts sector);
  • Support for the Olympic Federation, Commonwealth Games Association and the Confederation of Australian Sport;
  • Preferential treatment from Qantas to support teams travelling overseas;
  • Use of government facilities (particularly defence) for training camps and courses at all levels;
  • Use of excess government office space sports administration offices;
  • Use of repatriation hospitals as a base for medical and paramedical clinics for the treatment of athletes;
  • The development of special sports schools on an experimental basis where children could be given special sports tuition;
  • The development of a national games similar in concept to the Spartakiade or the Canadian Games.

Ellicott’s basket of ideas

All these exploratory ideas — along with the cross-department report, the work of CAS and the Sports Advisory Council – were at the disposal Bob Ellicott as Minister. He rejected some, modified others and quickly moved to put in place the core elements of sport policy. This was the raw material Ellicott had to work with! He also had the political strength and credibility within the Ministry to get results.

Ellicott built upon the foundations laid by the early Fitness Councils and the energetic policy infusion of one of his predecessors, Frank Stewart. From 1939 to the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, Commonwealth support centred around the National Fitness Council. It was through this machinery that funds were provided for various fitness and sport activities at national and state levels, including the encouragement of physical education training courses at Universities. Grants were also provided to assist teams attending Olympic and Commonwealth Games and, along with complementary support from some State Governments, funds were provided to life saving organisations.  However, by the early 1970s, the Commonwealth and States were beginning to place responsibility for sport and recreation programs within established Departments.

In addition to moving to establish the physical site of the National Institute of Sport by 1981, Ellicott also fostered the internal party discussion on the course of government engagement with sport policy overall. 

Australian Coaching Council and Accreditation

In July 1979 Ellicott joined with the NSW Minister for Sport and Recreation, Ken Booth, and the Victorian Minister for Youth, Sport and Recreation, Brian Dixon, to announce the introduction of the National Coaching Accreditation Scheme.  The scheme, developed by the new organisation, the Australian Coaching Council (ACC), was to become one of the most significant initiatives, universally recognised, in the development of Australian sport. It was to the detriment of Australia that future governments and administrators allowed it to disappear.

The ACC was established under the auspices of the Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS) and the Scheme drew the backing of the Sport and Recreation Ministers’ Council (SRMC).  Initially it offered accreditation to coaches at three levels. It raised the standards of coaching and elevated the professional status and prestige of coaching.

Ellicott explained that the Scheme, to be run within the guidelines established by the ACC, would be financed by Federal and State governments and would:

  • Increase the competence of coaches and improve their status;
  • Allow coaching qualifications to be transferrable among States;
  • Improve coaching skills;
  • Reduce duplication and gain funding efficiencies.

The ACC importantly delivered a more professional imprint on coaching in Australia across all sports, large and small.  It programs and materials were drawn upon and, in many instances, copied around the world.

Action follows ideas   

Ellicott was determined to improve sport policy – from the creation of the Institute of Sport, the coaching accreditation scheme and an increase in the budget of the sports development program in 1979-1980 to $2million.  He declared that the government had accepted the responsibility to ensure that athletes had the best chance to be at their competitive best for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.  

Following the controversial Moscow Olympics, Ellicott, drawing upon his now large repository of ideas, announced the introduction of a new funding program to support world ranked athletes: the National Athlete Award Scheme (NAAS).  The first recipient was swimmer, Michelle Ford, who was Australia’s only individual gold medallist at the Moscow Games. The NAAS was a recommended policy of both the Sports Advisory Council and the Confederation of Australian Sport.  The initial grant for an individual athlete was $4000 which could be used toward travel and competition costs. as well as living expenses and specialised coaching and equipment. This program has endured in different iterations and has provided essential funding to support individual athletes and teams for more than 38 years.

The launch of the AIS, increases in sports development funding, coaching accreditation and the NAAS were hallmarks of Ellicott’s term as the responsible Minister for sport. He was also to leave his mark as a driver to improve the quality of Australia’s sporting facilities, not just the AIS. In 1980 the Government announced a three-year $25 million program on a dollar- for-dollar basis with State Governments, targeted at the development of international standard facilities. These included a multi-purpose indoor sports hall (NSW), an equestrian centre and hockey field (Victoria), a shooting complex (Queensland), indoor aquatic centre (South Australia), ballistics complex (Western Australia), rowing and canoe course (Tasmania) and a multi-purpose indoor sport hall (Northern Territory).  Ellicott credited the Sports Advisory Council and the Confederation of Australian Sport as the key influencers in bringing about the policy initiative.

Australia Games

The idea for a national Games came initially through the Bloomfield report ‘The Role, Scope and Development of Recreation in Australia’ in the early 1970s.  In my previous Paper in this Series on the evolution of Australian sport policy I covered the early discussion of the concept of a National Games. The Confederation of Australian Sport promoted the concept further and the Federal and State Ministers for Sport, through the Sport and Recreation Ministers Council (SMRC) commissioned a feasibility study to test the idea further. The first Australia Games were intended to be held in Sydney in late 1983, or early 1984, but were delayed principally because of the lack of sufficient guarantees of funding.

The ups and downs of policy – Australia Games falters

Policy development rarely evolves in a straight line. There are many twists and turns along the journey as ideas are tested.  They demonstrate success and continue — or they are tried and are discarded for any number of reasons. The Australia Games, a wonderful idea at the time, falls in the latter category.

Ellicott had had lofty ambitions for the Games which were never reached.  He understood that for high performance sport to be competitive in Australia, against rising international standards, certain fundamentals needed to be in place: high standard, purpose-built venues and training facilities, expert coaching and technical support, professional management, adequate funding to allow athletes to travel and compete. While he made considerable progress toward meeting these goals, not all the pieces were in place before his departure from the portfolio. He left ‘on the table’ the concept for a National Games as a work in progress.  It was never to reach its potential and would never become a regular feature of the Australian sports scene. 

The plan was to introduce an Australian Games which would be a high-level multi-sport event (initially for 13 sports, but ultimately up to 20 sports) held on a regular basis to provide the convenience and cost benefit of quality competition on home soil similar in concept to national games held in other countries.

Ellicott’s proposal – encouraged by CAS – was to hold the Games every two years commencing in 1983 and for the Federal Government to provide funds alongside significant investment from the host State.  The idea was for the Games to rotate among the States and Territories.  As a precursor, Ellicott provided an amount of $200,000 to Brisbane to assist the city to host a Commonwealth Games test event before the 1982 Games. 

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, announced in March 1982 that the first Games would be held in Sydney in 1983 and would provide competition for Australian athletes against invited international sports stars. 

CAS had wanted a special edition of the Games to be conducted in 1988 during Australia’s bicentenary celebrations. Other than that exception, they would be conducted every two years ie in the odd numbered years between the Olympic and Commonwealth Games years.  The idea had a great deal of merit but not enough people, or governments, with the energy or commitment to make it happen.  CAS had wanted the Government to furnish most of the cash but wanted the Australia Games to be free of Government control.     

A company was established, funded by the Federal Government.  It was chaired by the President of the Confederation of Australian Sport, Wayne Reid, and included a representative of the government’s Sports Advisory Council, Mr James Barry.

The Labor Party was happy to adopt the concept as part of its policy in the campaign for the 1983 Federal election. However, once in government, enthusiasm waned.  Preparations were postponed and the host city was moved from Sydney to Melbourne.

Inaugural Games planning underway

The inaugural Games were delayed till February 1985.  While it was the Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, who optimistically announced the planned hosting of the inaugural Games in 1983, (Ref 1)it was the future Labor Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, who with the Victorian Premier, John Cain, announced in May 1984 that the Games would be held the following year in Melbourne to coincide with Victoria’s 150th birthday celebrations.

Hawke said the federal government would honor its 1983 election commitment and would provide $800,000 toward the cost of the Games.  He maintained that the Games would provide a national focus for sport in Australia and facilitate regular high-level competition for Australia’s top athletes in their own country. (Ref 2)

The Federal Department of Sport, Recreation and Tourism appointed a senior Departmental Officer, David Mazitelli, as its initial Director of the Games. The management and delivery of the Games were supported by both the Federal and State Governments with the heavy engagement and organisational involvement of the CAS. The November 1983 report of the House of Representatives enquiry The Way We P(l)ay had expressed early reservations about the notion of the Games and had concluded in its final report to the Federal Parliament that the objectives and scope of the Games needed clarification before the Federal Government invested funding. (Ref 3)

It was hardly a vote of confidence.  Nonetheless, the Games were to ahead in 1985 under the leadership of a new Sports Minister, John Brown, and the Labor Government led by Bob Hawke. I will deal with this period in a future Paper in this series. Suffice to say now, the Games happened and, despite significant organisational and financial challenges, were regarded as a success. However, there was not to be a second Games — perhaps because of the degree of difficulty in successfully organising and marketing such a multi-sport event, and the cost.

While the Australia Games from the outset had struggled to get traction, it remained on Ellicott’s “wish list” until his early exit from the portfolio. 

Overall, successes outweighed setbacks. Ellicott declared in a statement in October 1980 that the government had “already stamped itself as having done more for sport than any previous Federal Government.” Ellicott could take personal credit for much of the success of this period, although much work such as the Australia Games was left incomplete to be pursued by his successors.

Ellicott’s term was to finish on 17 February 1981. In a little over two years in the position, he left a significant legacy as one of Australia’s most effective Ministers for sport.


  1. Malcolm Fraser. Australia Games, Press Release, 31 March 1982.
  2. Bob Hawke. First Australia Games, Press Release, 18 may 1984
  3. House of Representatives. Standing Committee on Expenditure. The way we p(l)ay: Commonwealth assistance for sport and recreation : report. Canberra : Australian Government Publishing Service, 1983.

Author’s Background

Greg Hartung AO brings great knowledge and experience to the development of sport in Australia. He was a sport & political journalist, Member of the Interim Committee of the Australian Sports Commission (1983-1984), inaugural CEO Australian Sports Commission (1983-1988), Commissioner of the Australian Sports Commission (1991-1996), 2006-2010), Chair of the Australian Sports Commission (2008-2010), President of the Confederation of Australian Sport (1989-1995) and Australian Paralympic Committee (1997-2013) and Vice President of the International Paralympic Committee (2009-2013) and Adjunct Professor, University of Canberra (2014-)

Part 9 – Sport and the Ministerial Revolving Door:the Ebbs and Flows of
Sport Policy and Politicians -and the Confederation of Australian Sport Makes
its Presence Felt

Listing of articles in History of Australian Sport Policy Series

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